Ray Cross: UW System is delivering more graduates, deserves strong state support

May 8, 2019

As Wisconsin policymakers craft the next state budget, I urge them to consider the invaluable benefits the University of Wisconsin System brings to all parts of the state.

The governor and Legislature have shared priorities to improve wages and attract and retain talent to meet workforce demands. That’s why, as graduates walk across the stage this month, there’s no better time to remind Wisconsinites about the incredible return on investment — for individuals, communities and the state — provided by our 13 UW System institutions.

Students undergo social growth, often travel out of the country for the first time, and engage in research with talented faculty. Those experiences make our graduates strong neighbors and citizens. Increasingly, however, students and parents connect a university degree to employment opportunities and wage growth. So consider this:

A groundbreaking U.S. Census Bureau study found that graduates from one-third of UW-Madison majors had median annual earnings of more than $60,000 within five years of earning a bachelor’s degree — more than the Wisconsin household median. UW changes lives. Overall, college graduates understand their own investment pays dividends — $1 million more in earnings over their lifetimes compared to non-graduates.The education our graduates receive propels them into careers and prepares them for the workforce. For example, at UW-Stout, 98.7 percent of graduates are employed or in continuing education six months after graduation, 87 percent of them related to their major. Of those working, the average first-year salary is $43,000.In 2017-18, more than 36 percent of UW-Oshkosh graduates who came from out of state remained in Wisconsin after graduation, up from 23 percent the year before. About 88 percent of UW-Oshkosh’s Wisconsin resident graduates remain in Wisconsin. Across UW System, 81 percent of in-state UW System graduates remain in the state after graduation.Graduates from many UW System campuses including UW-Green Bay, UW-La Crosse, UW-Platteville, UW-River Falls, UW-Stevens Point, UW-Stout and UW-Whitewater use social media and other channels to proclaim success at landing a job even before walking across the stage to receive their diplomas.

It’s clear we are striving to meet Wisconsin’s needs. Now we are looking to exceed expectations by offering solutions to some of Wisconsin’s more pressing issues.

We are graduating more students than ever — a record 36,825 at all levels in 2018. We expect the final figures for 2019 to be equivalent or higher. That means we’re helping solve Wisconsin’s employment challenges by providing needed employees. It also means we’re doing better than ever in helping students progress through college, earn degrees and enter our talent pipeline.

An investment in UW System will help us continue these successes and generate more graduates — especially in high-need areas such as nursing, engineering, business, computer science, information technology and data science. Across the System, our campuses have plans to expand these vital areas through our 2019-21 state budget capacity-building initiatives.

Moreover, our faculty generate groundbreaking research that improves lives and communities and often leads to new companies and patents. The 13 UW universities throughout Wisconsin are regional hubs of cultural and economic life.

If policymakers want to invest in the future of where we all work and live, UW System represents an excellent return on investment.