21.2.11

GETTING THE MODEL RIGHT.  Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel editor Ricardo Pimentel contemplates the quasi-privatization of The University of Wisconsin (at Madison).
The Madison campus apparently wants to secede from the University of Wisconsin System, becoming a more privatized hybrid - still sucking up tax dollars, just fewer.
In an environment of state austerity, such a proposal has its attractions.  State legislatures, or political appointees, continue to micromanage 100% of a state university's work, while paying for 25% or less of it.  Mr Pimentel fears that such a step would contribute further to social stratification.
California, my birth state, has a two-tier, four-year public university system. There is the California State University system and the more exalted, hard-to-get-into, chi-chi University of California system.

The UC acronym appears before such locales as Berkeley, Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara. Though there is some duplication in locales, we're talking about such places as Fresno, San Bernardino and Bakersfield for the Cal States.
If you're getting the impression that "two-tier," as Wisconsin used to have, means two different types of colleges, you wouldn't be far off. When I was growing up, struggling folks with good-but-not-great-grades went to Cal State. Brainiacs and those with money went to UC.
That "as Wisconsin used to have" refers to the structure 40 years ago, in which The University of Wisconsin had its main campus at Madison, a branch in Milwaukee, and some up and coming centers, at the time limited to the first two years, elsewhere in the state, and the Wisconsin State University System operated a number of converted teachers' colleges-cum-party schools in the hinterlands.  The state's policy at the time was to ensure a space in a state-supported university for anyone who finished in the top half of his or her high school class.  The thick envelope from Madison, however, corroborated one's brainiac status; the social set could evaluate Whitewater or Oshkosh on the merits of its parties.  Milwaukee Hamilton's National Merit finalists, however, grasped the caste system; in those days a finalist could request information from any three universities, and the joke ran "Princeton, Harvard, UWM."
UW-Milwaukee aspires to be a major research university. In fact, only two UW campuses have doctoral programs - Madison and Milwaukee.

The California-Wisconsin analogy doesn't totally fit. The UCs remain public. Now, imagine how pronounced the gaps would be if it were "quasi public." It would be an upper-crust, research university and then schools that don't even make the also-rans in that crucial research category.
 Milwaukee has long aspired to something more academically. Pursuing basketball greatness in the Horizon League isn't likely to do that. Putting more resources into engineering and urban planning and computer sciences and business might.
"Access" colleges provide an avenue to higher ed for challenged communities, and then there are those elite, research universities - hard to get into, breaking the bank when you do. And the problem here is that, alone among the state's universities, Milwaukee needs to be both - an access university and a major research university.
Mr Pimentel here conflates two kinds of access, one being the pernicious form of admitting unprepared students, the other being the economic form of subsidizing tuitions for promising but financially strapped students. There are at least two perspectives one can take toward those subsidies.  One is that they are regressive transfers to people who will become rich later in life.  The other is that they are a social contract with future generations that current legislatures have broken.  The reality, as Mr Pimentel notes, is that a striving student can no longer work his way through one of the elite universities with a full-time summer job and a part-time academic year job.
I'm not arguing for another tier for Milwaukee because it's so different from other campuses, but recognition that we lose something when public universities become less so. It communicates an abdication of public responsibility for higher education. We've been abdicating for years, levels of state funding steadily declining.
That puts Mr Pimentel in the broken social contract camp.  Perhaps so.  What matters, though, to the citizens of Wisconsin is that Milwaukee, despite having neither high-visibility football nor royalties from rat poison, now has more Wisconsin residents enrolled than Madison, and Milwaukee's part of the social contract is to make sure that its brainiacs and strivers get the intellectual challenge they might have hoped to get at Madison, had Madison provided a slot for them.  The incentive to the former teachers' colleges ought to be to lift their academic profiles as well.

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