9.6.06

HOW POSITIONAL ARMS RACES DEVELOP. The University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee aspires to being something other than a commuter college. The editors at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel agree.
It was a grand vision that University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Chancellor Carlos Santiago put before the UW Board of Regents Thursday. He pointed out how vital Milwaukee was to Wisconsin and UWM was to the UW System, how the city was slumping and the campus lacked research muscle and how an energized campus could rev up the city, region and state.
But it isn't going to come for free.
His vision, which entails increasing UWM's basic budget by $10 million in each of the next three two-year periods, deserves the endorsement of the regents and then the Legislature and the governor.
And it involves balancing goals.
Santiago detailed why UWM's now small output of research must grow if the campus is to strengthen Milwaukee as an economic engine. And he said, correctly, that UWM must stay open in admissions while improving the retention and graduation rates of African-Americans and Latinos.
That latter is particularly difficult. Open admissions equates to retention risks. Some people who don't look like college material on paper will discover their abilities and thrive. Others really aren't college material. And (as we shall see) retention and graduation for its own sake is not a positive thing.
He pointed to the dynamism of UWM, 28,000-students-strong, no longer the commuter campus it once was. It supports, he said, more Wisconsin residents than any other institution of higher learning in the state. And the campus accounts for 80% of the system's enrollment growth.
Not difficult, if other system schools have instituted enrollment freezes as a way of extracting concessions from legislators, which may be the case at the old Wisconsin State Party Schools, or if the Madison campus is selling itself to upscale out-of-staters as the Princeton experience at a budget price.

Santiago showed as well as told. He put on display UWM grads who rose to the top of corporate and non-profit Milwaukee: Dennis Kuester, chairman and chief executive of Marshall & Ilsley Corp.; Edward Zore, president and chief executive of Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., and June Perry, retiring co-founder of the New Concept Self Development Center, a social service agency.

Kuester warned, "We (the Milwaukee region) can either be an economic engine for growth or an economic millstone." Strong research universities explain strong economic growth in other cities, he
said.

That last sentence is debatable; University, Inc., reviewed here, suggests that to pursue the industry incubator for its own sake might be self-defeating. I have some more detailed comments to come on yet another book tackling that claim. More importantly, those captains of industry would not have emerged without something resembling a rigorous academic program. Access, so that such people can discover their callings, yes. Retention, for its own sake, no.
Perry warned that UWM has plenty of competition, particularly from new proprietary schools, and that UWM must do a better job of drawing and keeping students.
Are Milwaukee area employers really that indifferent to the strength of a credential? Alternatively, is Wisconsin-Milwaukee simply providing more basketball for the locals and baby-sitting for their late-adolescents?

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