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'Wisconsin is at a crossroads' says UW regents president

Speaking in Hudson Wednesday was UW System Board of Regents President Charles Pruitt, right, and UW-River Falls Chancellor Dean Van Galen.

UW System Board of Regents President Charles Pruitt and UW-River Falls Chancellor Dean Van Galen outlined plans for the future of the UW System and how to help the state see an increase in the number of college graduates and more jobs.

The men spoke to members of the Hudson Daybreak Rotary Club and later met with reporters at the UW-River Falls Hudson campus Wednesday morning. Pruitt highlighted a report he helped write titled Principles of Progress and Prosperity.

"Wisconsin is at a crossroads," Pruitt said. "To thrive in a global economy that rewards innovation and knowledge, our state needs more college graduates and more jobs to employ its citizens. The University of Wisconsin System is poised to help on both counts."

Pruitt said Wisconsin lags in the number of college graduates. He said 26 percent of Wisconsin adults have college degrees. Nationally the number is 28 percent and in Minnesota the number is 32 percent.

That translates to lower incomes in the Badger state. Currently Wisconsin's per capita income is $37,767; the United States average is $40,208; and Minnesota's is $43,037.

"If you compare the two states (Wisconsin and Minnesota), Minnesota has an average income that is $5,500 higher per person than Wisconsin," Pruitt said. "That comes out to $29 billion in annual income."

He said it's not because of educational opportunities.

"Wisconsin has the finest public university system in the county," Pruitt said.

He is concerned, however, about the resource trends facing the system.

"It is not our job to decide how much taxes should be collected, but we look to fairness," Pruitt said. "Thirty years ago 14 cents of every tax dollar collected went to secondary education; 15 years ago it was 12 cents; and today it is 8 cents."

Likewise, the amount paid by college students has shifted. Ten years ago, the state paid 64 percent of college education and the student paid 34 percent. Today the state pays 40 percent and the student pays 60 percent.

"I don't want that trend to continue," Pruitt said.

He talked about new business models and the need for college campuses to be more flexible. Among the issue he noted that needed to be addressed was the pay for college professors and employees.

"In Wisconsin we are absolutely underpaid and absolutely not competitive," Pruitt said. "Wisconsin is 9 to 30 percent behind the national average. We are operating in a competitive national market when it comes to attracting faculty."

If Wisconsin is going to increase the number of college graduates, Pruitt believes faculty pay has to be competitive.

He doesn't agree with the concept of the often-publicized "brain drain."

"We are keeping a large number of graduates in the state - we just don't have enough people earning degrees to keep up with the neighbors," Pruitt said.

He believes that the creation of new jobs will come when more Wisconsinites have degrees.

With new Republican Gov. Scott Walker emphasizing jobs, Pruitt believes the University System can be an integral part of Walker's plan.

"When businesses look to relocate to an area, one of the first things they look for are employees who can fill the company's positions."

He cited, as an example, the UW Research Park in Madison. The facility has generated 5,500 well-paying jobs ($65,000-plus) in Madison. Pruitt said it's there because the university can support the personnel needs.

"We're optimistic that we can work with the new governor," Pruitt said. "He (Walker) met with the board of regents two days after the election. Our attitude is that I believe we can work in positive, constructive ways."

UW-River Falls Chancellor Dean Van Galen echoed Pruitt's thoughts.

"It is important for universities to be at the table when the state talks about recruiting businesses and creating jobs," Van Galen said. "Universities need to be a partner in the process."

UW-RF Hudson

Both men had good things to say about the UW-River Falls Hudson campus that opened last fall.

"We have 237 students attending classes," Van Galen said. "We're off to a very good start."

The Hudson campus caters to non-traditional students, adults, people seeking to finish an undergraduate degree work, master's degrees and more.

"There are 6,000 people within a five-mile radius of Hudson who have attended college, but never finished their degree work," Van Galen said. "Our plan was to be self-sustaining on the Hudson campus within three years and we're already close to that goal."

Van Galen also noted that of Wisconsin's 72 counties, only five are projected to have more high school graduates in five years than they have today. St., Croix County is one of the five.

Pruitt called the Hudson campus a great model for other campuses to consider.

"The St. Croix Valley is a big economic force, but it will be even more so in the future," Pruitt said.

The UW System

The UW System has 13 four-year universities, 13 two-year universities, online courses, and a cooperative extension office in each county.

The system is administered by an 18-member Board of Regents. The governor appoints board members to seven-year terms, except the two student regents who are appointed to two-year terms.

The Board appoints the President of the UW System, the chancellors of the 13 universities, the chancellor of UW-Extension and UW Colleges, and the deans of the 13 colleges. All appointees serve at the pleasure of the Board.

The Board also sets admission standards, reviews and approves university budgets, and establishes the regulatory framework within which the individual units operate.

Charles Pruitt is a partner and co-managing director of the A.B. Data Group - a marketing and data processing firm with 120 employees headquartered in Milwaukee. He is member of the Board of COA Youth and Family Centers, the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation and several other community organizations.

Pruitt began his professional career as an assistant professor of Political Science at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn, and previously served as a member of the Milwaukee Task Force on Youth Crime and Violence and the President's Marketing Task Force for Macalester College, where he earned his bachelor's degree. Pruitt earned both his M.A. and Ph.D in Government from Harvard University.