Re: Foxconn: Too Many Gophers at UW — Madison

The time has come for Wisconsin political leaders to address the state’s brain drain, and they can start by renegotiating the student reciprocity agreement with Minnesota.

The trip wire for the necessity to deal head-on with the loss of 10,000 college graduates every year is the deal with Foxconn and its promise to build a skilled workforce of 13,000 employees. Foxconn has already located a team of its people at Gateway Technical College to launch the ramp-up for training and recruiting smart people.

Politicians and educators at every level are cranking up to fill the Foxconn demand. Republicans and Democrats – in rare policy agreement – are willing to spend tax dollars to increase our skills pipeline.

Their efforts are necessary and welcome, yet they may be insufficient to fill a hole left by the exodus of 10,000 educated citizens year-in, year-out.

How to stem the out-flow? Let’s start in by looking across our western border. The numbers are compelling. A recent Minnesota report notes that 20% of all Minnesota high school graduates who go to college come to Wisconsin – subsidized by Wisconsin taxpayers.

In 2015, Minnesota sent 13,837 students to Wisconsin, while Wisconsin sent 8,300 to Minnesota. The table is tilted.

Worse, only 9% of those Minnesotans stay in this state after getting their degrees. Worse again, 47% of the Wisconsin reciprocity students choose to stay in the Gopher State after graduating. Ouch!

That compares to about 70% retention of Wisconsin students graduating from UW campuses.

Digging deeper, the real problem is at UW – Madison. The other 25 UW campuses are facing major enrollment challenges, so offering cut-rate tuition there makes sense. They badly need the any and all students and tuition revenue.

But the demand at Madison is virtually infinite. So, if slots were opened up there by ending the Minnesota reciprocity on that campus, they could easily be filed by Wisconsin kids who would be turned down for admission otherwise.

This fall, UW Madison had 2917 Minnesotans in its student body of 29,536 undergraduates. There were another 8,561 non-resident students paying premium rates.

Note that the Minnesota four-year visitors don’t add the kind of diversity that international students bring. (Unless you include those with Norwegian DNA.)

So, long and short of it, about 30% of the Wisconsin annual brain drain could be solved by ending the subsidies for Minnesota students at UW – Madison.

It’s not like the Minnesotans need the subsidies more than Wisconsinites. Thanks in part to our largess under reciprocity, Minnesota enjoys a population with 35% having baccalaureates or higher and per capita income of $52,036 in 2016. Those numbers in Wisconsin were much lower at 29.5% and $46,762.

Nor should it surprise anyone that Wisconsin ranks 12th highest in state and local spending for higher education at $1063 per capita and Minnesota ranks 27th at $858. Taxpayers here educate a lot of their kids for them.

Okay, that’s a lot of numbers, but they do make the case that Minnesota politicians are smarter than Wisconsin’s. Clearly. we got snookered in the reciprocity agreement.

Ending that compact for our flagship campus would help Foxconn and other Wisconsin employers, as well as Wisconsin taxpayers.

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  • Bill Kurtz

    Permit me to offer a few arguments against a column that is well-thought but fails to consider part of the equation: The Wisconsin residents attending the University of Minnesota. I’ll offer 3 points to consider:
    1. I’m a proud UW alumnus, but I’d never assume that all Wisconsin students at Minnesota’s main campus went there only because they couldn’t get into UW, and would really rather be Badgers. I have a sister and brother who graduated from Minnesota who could have attended UW. She went to Minnesota because she preferred going to school in the Twin Cities over Madison. He was transferring from an east coast school, and would have had to wait a year to enroll in his preferred major at UW. Minnesota could take him right away.
    2. In northwestern Wisconsin, the University of Minnesota-Duluth is a much larger, more comprehensive campus than UW-Superior, within commuting distance. If UMD is no longer available through reciprocity, other UW campuses (all well over 100 miles from Superior) are not realistic alternatives for many students.
    3. The opportunity for Wisconsin residents to attend 2 flagship comprehensive campuses at resident tuition rates is a selling point for living here, and eases pressure on UW-Madison admissions. I recall reading an article some years ago in the Chicago Tribune noting how difficult it had become for Illinois resident students to gain admission to the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, the only “public Ivy” available for resident tuition rates. The article pointed out that residents of four nearby states each have 2 options: Minnesota and UW-Madison here, Iowa and Iowa State in that state, Indiana and Purdue in Indiana, and Michigan and Michigan State there. The writer said this comparison made those 4 states more attractive than Illinois to parents of prospective college students.
    Thanks for taking time to read this.
    Bill Kurtz