Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Stanford in our back yard? A few thoughts on the Badger Partnership ...

Last week the Walker administration announced modifications to the tuition reciprocity agreement between Wisconsin and Minnesota that would end the subsidies that Wisconsin pays to each resident who chooses to attend the University of Minnesota.  And while the new proposal is important, the real story is a different one: Why is in-state tuition at UW-Madison cheaper than at most other Big-10 schools?  After all, UW-Madison is routinely ranked among the world's 25 best universities--an exclusive list which includes mostly Ivy League and other private schools.

And the answer is simple: UW has always been committed to providing affordable world-class public education, and we have done a better job than virtually all of our competitors. My own discipline is a good example. In the National Research Council's most recent ranking of doctoral programs, only three Mass Communication programs in the country received a top ranking: The University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  But while annual graduate tuition costs at Penn and Stanford are in the range of $40,000, in-state tuition at Wisconsin is about $11,000 and out-of state is $25,000.

In other words, we have an affordable, public version of Stanford right here in Wisconsin. Not only is UW-Madison one of the best universities in the world, similar to Stanford it also serves as a key economic driver for the region.  UW-Madison receives close to $1 billion in outside research funding every year, creating over $12 billion in economic revenue.  And a recent report suggested that UW-Madison and its affiliated organizations and startup companies support 128,146 Wisconsin jobs and generate $614 million in state tax revenue.

But things are changing, as a result of tough budget cuts and an increasingly fierce competition among public and private institutions over the best faculty, the best students and shrinking pools of federal funding.  And as well as we may have done in the past, the UW System is not immune to these challenges.

This is why Chancellor Martin's proposal for a Badger Partnership is not just a smart but also a necessary move. It provides UW-Madison with the budgetary and administrative flexibility that is absolutely crucial in order to compete with the world's top universities on an equal playing field--over attracting and retaining the best faculty and students, over external research dollars, and over producing impactful science that makes a meaningful difference in people's everyday lives.

But UW-Madison will continue to be different from the Stanfords and MITs of this world in one respect.  We are a land grant university that works with and for the citizens for Wisconsin.  Keeping a world-class education affordable for the citizens of our state is therefore a key component of the Badger Partnership. Toward that end, Chancellor Martin suggested last month that under a public authority, UW-Madison could pace its tuition increases against those at other UW System institutions.

Most importantly, the Badger Partnership is not a political proposal but an academic one. It outlines changes that are critically important for the future of higher education in Wisconsin, and that will hopefully find support across partisan lines among all of us who want a UW-Madison that continues to provides the very best education at an affordable price tag, that is an economic driver for the state's recovery, and that remains one of the world's premier universities, period.