The column below reflects the views of the author, and these opinions are neither endorsed nor supported by WisOpinion.com.
UW-Madison is an incredible resource for our state’s economy, serving as one of Wisconsin’s primary economic engines. Our Flagship University is responsible for over 230,000 jobs, generates over $1 billion in state and local taxes, and returns $26 for every taxpayer dollar invested in the university. In total, the university’s economic impact is over $30.8 billion and touches all corners of the state.
However, UW-Madison’s future as a world-class university is in peril as decades of budget cuts have reduced state contributions to the university below 15% of the operating budget – destabilizing the institution’s foundation. Currently, our state legislators are making decisions regarding infrastructure investments in higher education through the Capital Budget and have a chance to make a critical investment in UW-Madison’s world-ranked engineering programs.
With the opportunity to address the challenges facing our flagship university, we are baffled to see state lawmakers delay the enumeration of the vital College of Engineering building – a project designed to address the crippling deficiencies in the current engineering structure on campus, which was constructed during the Great Depression.
It is time to put partisanship aside and for our elected leaders to invest in the infrastructure UW-Madison needs to remain a global leader.
Laying The Foundation For Tomorrow
The existing UW-Madison engineering building was built in 1938. Today’s world would be inconceivable to an engineering student in school during the Great Depression, and the requirements to educate students have evolved far beyond the current engineering infrastructure on campus. Additionally, UW-Madison is currently the only school in UW-System seeing dramatic growth, with applications doubling in the last ten years. For our flagship university to remain a global leader in engineering education, we must invest in the buildings that meet the needs of an in-demand, world-class program.
However, students aren’t the only beneficiaries of a new engineering building. A contemporary structure also supports the growth of Wisconsin’s educated workforce and lays the foundation for a robust economy for decades to come. The proposed construction project would increase capacity in our world-ranked engineering programs by over 1,400 students (1,000 undergraduate students and 400 graduate students) – and we know that around one out of every two UW-Madison engineering students stay in Wisconsin after graduation. These engineers build our schools and hospitals, guide our manufacturing and drive our economy forward by living in the communities where they work.
Additionally, the engineering program is part of the research ecosystem at our flagship that brings in 93% of the federal research dollars that enter our state – an economic driver that totals more than $1 billion to Wisconsin each year. Yet, despite the sizable economic power of UW-Madison, the school is currently slated to receive just one-third of the UW-System capital budget and just 11% of the state’s overall allocation. The impact of these changes is a Capital Budget that fails to invest in our state’s businesses and economy, and a continuation of policy that has led to UW-Madison’s decline in national research rankings from second to eighth.
The good news is that this decision should be an easy one for legislators. The engineering building has the most pledged private gifts of all UW-System Capital Budget projects up for consideration. The additional funding from private sources lowers the required taxpayer investment while maintaining economic returns for Wisconsin.
Investing In UW-Madison Drives Wisconsin Forward
For 172 years, UW-Madison has anchored our state, guiding us through thick and thin. Yet, despite more than $30 billion in economic impact, decades of cuts and lack of investment have left UW-Madison in a fragile financial state, leading to a slide in national rankings.
As Wisconsin’s economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the State expects nearly $4.4 billion in extra tax revenue – now is the time to reverse the continued underinvestment in our flagship university and spend our public dollars where they will get a powerful return.
Fighting for the health and future of our flagship university is not about partisanship. We, the signers of this letter, represent both political parties and bring decades of business experience to the table. We are alumni, Wisconsinites and business leaders united in our passionate advocacy for one of the state’s most powerful economic engines – UW-Madison.
With one voice, we urge our legislators to put partisanship aside and invest a portion of the state budget surplus in The College of Engineering, where it will earn a great return for taxpayers and support the future workforce needs of Wisconsin.
Kevin Conroy, Chairman & CEO, Exact Sciences Corporation
Curt Culver, Chairman, MGIC Investment Corporation
Tom Falk, Retired Chairman & CEO, Kimberly-Clark Corporation
Ted Kellner, Chairman & CEO, T&M Partners, LLC
Peter Kies, Managing Director, Robert W. Baird & Co.
Bill Monfre, Retired Owner and CEO, Quality Insulators, Inc.
John Morgridge, Retired Chairman & CEO, Cisco Systems, Inc.
Cory Nettles, Managing Director, Generation Growth Capital, Inc.
John Schaefer, Chairman, CEO and President, Fleet Farm Holdings, Inc.
Mike Shannon, Chairman, UW Foundation & Alumni Association
Bob Venable, President & COO, Charter Manufacturing