29.7.06

THE FLAGSHIP IS SWAMPED. Editorial writers at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel want the University of Wisconsin system to stop sending promising youngsters out of state.
Too many of the state's top high school seniors are finding the doors to the top University of Wisconsin campus shut to them. As a result, they often leave the state to pursue their degrees. The danger is they won't come back - contributing to the state's brain drain.
(Weren't the policymakers and pundits fretting a few years ago about how many graduates got their degree and then pursued opportunities in other states? Current company included?)

Their recommendation: take away some of the sting of being rejected at Madison.
Officials must reverse this trend by expanding the number of Wisconsin students the Madison campus accepts and raising the stature of the Milwaukee campus.
But no matter what course you take, there will be unpleasant choices. No doubt the LaCrosse or Eau Claire campuses will weigh in with arguments for an upgrade from destroyer escort to heavy cruiser.
Both courses require the Legislature to put more money into the UW System, reversing the trend for cutbacks in state support.
And, presumably, making Milwaukee's research expectations, course standards, and faculty responsibilities more like Madison's. No doubt there will be some skepticism about expanded Ph.D. production.

Yes, once the Madison campus did admit more students but found the huge number stretched its resources too thin. Students attended too many large classes, and difficulty getting into required courses kept too many from graduating on time. So the university, with the blessing of the Legislature, trimmed its enrollment.

While perhaps a reasonable decision then - in the late 1980s - it's now time to change course, but in a way that doesn't lead to crowding. There are two choices: Expand the resources - specifically, the class space and the faculty. Or cut down on the number of out-of-state students on campus. Even the latter choice requires more state support since out-of-state students pay more than three times the tuition of in-state students.

The late 1980s and early 1990s were a convenient time to embark on such cutbacks, as the relatively small Thirteenth Generation was finishing high school, and the corporate fad of the era was downsizing and restructuring. But the downsizing mentality has persisted despite rising enrollments and rising premiums for technical degrees. And now the option of cutting back on offerings to scare away the Coastie money means higher state appropriations or higher tuitions (read smaller subsidies to people who will be earning more money.)

The editors, not surprisingly, favor more resources being spent on the Milwaukee campus.

Madison's undergraduate enrollment exceeded 30,000 altogether when officials determined to cut back. But they never did Step 2 of their plan: Make UW-Milwaukee a viable alternative to Madison, among the top research universities in the nation. Officials never gave the Milwaukee campus sufficient resources. They must do so now so that Wisconsin students have options.

As it happens, Chancellor Carlos Santiago is seeking to drastically step up research at UWM - a goal that dovetails nicely with the idea of making the campus a stronger alternative to Madison for top students. Lawmakers and UW officials must support that goal.

Carlos's problem is one of emulating Wayne State on a good day, something that is going to be difficult given the differing wishes of the business community, the local schools, and Milwaukee area public officials, let alone residents outside Milwaukee. Have the editorial writers in Oshkosh and Platteville weighed in with their wish lists?

No comments: