Wisconsin Policy Forum Report on UWM’s Unique Challenges

Dear Faculty and Staff,

The Wisconsin Policy Forum released a report today focusing on the unique challenges that UWM faces. The “Degree of Difficulty: UWM’s Challenges in a Turbulent Time” report shows that we are lagging peer institutions in enrollment, key revenues and support. We are the only campus in the UW System with a dual mission of access and research, offered in the economic and population center of the state. Our dual mission provides unparalleled opportunities to our students and the companies and institutions that employ them. This mission, though, is particularly challenging in an environment of declining revenues, and urgently requires state attention and reinvestment.

The value of the Wisconsin Policy Forum report is that it underscores what many of us have known and said for some time: To enable our campus’ mission, we must have greater resources. This report reinforces compellingly the advocacy that I have been leading, as outlined later in this update. See key points here.

A notable quote from the report sums up how we compare to peer institutions, “We find that UWM stands out among other public urban universities. With respect to enrollment as well as state funding and tuition revenues, almost none of UWM’s peers face such stiff challenges and together they may threaten its very status as a top-tier R1 research institution.”

Our dedicated faculty and staff have been grappling with these issues for years, and these issues have driven the urgency with which we are tackling our 2030 Action Plan.

Yet, despite state funding levels, UWM was able to become the university that it is today — an R1, community-engaged, public urban university that serves the highest numbers of underrepresented students in Wisconsin – through decades of work by our faculty and staff.

Since 2000, we have doubled the number of health degrees and nearly tripled the number of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) degrees. We serve the largest number of Black, Latino and Southeast Asian students and the most students with military or veteran status of any UW System campus. In recent years, six-year graduation rates for students seeking a UWM bachelor’s degree have improved for all students, including underrepresented minorities.

Our students represent today’s increasingly diverse world, and 80% of our graduates fill jobs in high-demand fields including architecture, business, computer science, education, engineering, health care, information technology, and water. UWM and its graduates fill the pipeline for more talent, and particularly diverse talent.

And we are working very hard to address the enrollment challenges that UWM and most other UW institutions have faced over the last decade due to demographic changes in Wisconsin.  This has included increasing student financial aid to more than $15 million annually from our development campaign ($5 million) and operating funds ($10+ million). Our 2030 Action Plan prioritizes student retention and success, which strengthen enrollments.

We continue to assertively advocate for equitable funding levels through ongoing conversations and meetings with UW System Regents, legislators, business leaders, and others. We are urging leaders to consider the paradox of UWM’s critical mission – to contribute to diverse talent availability and increase the number of underrepresented minority and low-income graduates in Wisconsin – against the woefully inadequate state investment to accomplish this mission. In light of this past year’s recognition of our nation’s social justice and equity challenges, this advocacy is finally receiving notice.

In my June 3, 2021 presentation to the Board of Regents, I stressed how all these factors boost the state and region’s competitiveness, and why additional investment is essential. A summary of the board meeting and my comments is on the UW System website.

Several Regents voiced their support for UWM’s unique needs. Regent Héctor Colón said, “This could be the biggest single initiative that this board takes on that would really address equity, diversity, and inclusion and so I’d be very much in favor of taking a look at this and making sure that Milwaukee’s not negatively impacted the way it has been for decades, now. When Milwaukee does well, the rest of the state does well.”

Regent Tracey Klein said, “It’s not about this region vs. that region. We are in this … as common workers. Milwaukee’s success impacts the entire state, and UWM is our best way of propelling the city of Milwaukee and its important business base and its important population base. There are challenges, and we who work in the Milwaukee business community see them every day … there’s amazing optimism, “We’re all going to pull together and do this”, but the way the state impacts this—I think most directly—is support for UWM.”

The Wisconsin Policy Forum report helps advance our long-standing efforts. I encourage you to review and share the report, along with this message, with your colleagues, neighbors, family and friends who may not be aware of the serious impact that inadequate support has had on UWM, its students and our communities. Collectively, we can raise awareness about the urgent need to address these and other challenges.

Best regards,

Mark A. Mone, PhD