Rising costs and decreasing academic preparation for college disproportionately impact students who are economically challenged – and UWM has the largest slice of this population in the UW System. Even in a time of shrinking enrollments, Chancellor Mark Mone said Thursday in his annual plenary address, the university will prevail because UWM offers solutions to the wide income disparities that exist between Wisconsin’s white and underserved populations.
UWM is navigating the turbulence in higher education by keeping students’ needs top of mind, increasing positive interactions with them and focusing on the far-reaching impact of addressing racial inequities, Mone said.
“Meeting the needs of Milwaukee’s diverse urban community in the state’s largest city and economic hub is part of UWM’s mission,” Mone said. “We all know that as Milwaukee goes, so does the state. We have the scale that can make a difference on these problems.”
Public universities, including UWM, are now similar to private institutions, he said, in that most of their operating budgets come from tuition. Not only are there fewer students coming out of high schools, but fewer of those are sold on going to college because they are uncertain if the cost will provide them a return on their investment.
“Enrollments are critical. But it’s not just about the financial impact on us – it’s about the lives that are changed and the support of our community through education,” Mone said.
We can get more youth from disadvantaged backgrounds to college and better paying jobs, Mone said, if institutions and agencies work together.
Recently the UW System announced the Wisconsin Tuition Promise, a new initiative starting in fall 2023 to ensure underserved Wisconsin students can attend any UW System university without paying tuition or fees. The financial aid will be different from person to person, depending on their other financial aid sources, but the awards are expected to average $4,500 over four years.
An estimated 20% of UWM students will benefit, Mone said, and the program “will be a pillar of our budget ask in the coming years.”
Other partnerships are helping UWM open the door wider for underserved students to attend and finish college.
Through these group efforts, UWM is focused on improving college attainment in the region, especially for minorities (via the Higher Education Regional Alliance), eliminating the racial achievement gap (Moon Shot for Equity), increasing the pipeline of prepared college students (M³) and diversifying hiring and procurement for the city’s most vulnerable communities (Anchor Collaborative).
Finding diverse talent
Last year, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce partnered with UWM to help companies find diverse talent so that industry could increase their employees of color. The relationship led to a state-funded program to place 100 students from underrepresented populations in paid internships with Milwaukee-area corporations.
To further help industry fill workforce needs, UWM is offering a new program for workers to earn microcredentials so they can reskill and upskill without having to complete a two- or four-year degree. And the university’s role with the Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute is helping to feed the demand for employees who have the skills to work with data.
Partnerships have already begun to increase enrollments and resources, Mone said, noting that UW System had offered some additional resources because of the relationships UWM built in the Moon Shot program.
Mone also reported good news: UWM enrollments are nearly the at the same level as the beginning of last year’s fall semester. And university housing is at capacity (though continues to place students on a waitlist), which means many more students than in the last two years will be able to enjoy the vibrant experience of living and socializing on campus.
UWM advanced in the rankings of military-friendly campuses, named this year as fifth in the nation when it comes to educating and fostering welcoming environments for students currently or formerly in the military.
The university this year celebrated the third consecutive time it earned the highest research rating from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. This “R1” status places UWM among the world’s leading institutions of research – one of only 146 institutions, out of nearly 4,000 considered, that are placed in this category.
Banner year for fundraising
It was a banner year for fundraising too. Some of the notable donations included a $5.75 million gift from Froedtert Hospital to fund scholarships for underserved students in health care and a $3 million donation to support UWM’s Electa Quinney Institute for American Indian Education.
To help faculty salaries keep up with that of other universities, Mone said the Board of Regents will ask the state Legislature for 4% pay increases for each of the next two years, 2024 and 2025. The board also will ask that the state fund the entire cost of the raises so that individual campuses would not have to contribute, as has occurred in the past.
“It would be the largest increase in my 34 years at UWM,” Mone said, “and it will start moving us closer to the market.”
Looking forward, Mone said that creating a student-centric campus is an important part of the 2030 Plan, and all faculty and staff can contribute by having positive interactions with students. The plan will help students finish their degrees quicker, provide exposure to a wider array of experiences through college realignment, and grow the UWM endowment from $262 million to closer to $500 million. Mone said money in an endowment would give the university more control than it has with state-provided funds.