Monday, September 10, 2007

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as "Talent Magnet"

Universities are amazingly effective talent attractors, and their effect is truly magnetic. - Richard Florida, "The Rise of the Creative Class"

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) has the ability to attract students, professors and researchers from around the world and these people represent a potential pool of talent to be grown within Milwaukee. A recent article titled Closing the income gap with education points out a severe lack of talent in Milwaukee County by showing that approximately only 1 in 5 residents have college degrees and further points out that the number of degrees per capita is correlated to per capita income level. Now the number of degrees per capita is just one measurement of talent but many studies have verified this correlation and so it appears attracting new students to Milwaukee is a priority. Additionally the report Attracting the Young, College-Educated to Cities put out by CEOs for Cities, points out that "college-educated young people are most likely to consider living in places similar to where they are now" so these students are more likely to stay within Milwaukee post graduation and increase the overall talent level. This ability to attract and retain talent is a significant opportunity the City of Milwaukee needs to capitalize upon.

To capitalize on this opportunity to the fullest indicates that a larger student enrollment for UWM should be another piece of the economic plan for Milwaukee because more students equal more talent. To achieve this goal many hurdles need to be overcome such as, how that many residents on the Eastside see UWM as a nuisance, the reality that the school is located in a dense neighborhood, and that it still has the stigma of being a commuter college. Some positive events are already occurring along these lines such as Joseph Zilber's $10 million donation to UWM to fund a new school of public health within the city. But to overcome these hurdles, significantly increase enrollment, as well as encourage students to stay in Milwaukee post graduation a number of steps need to be taken.

The Plan:

1. Change Perception - While UWM is no longer a "commuter college" it is still refereed to as such in the media and residents therefore an effort needs to be made to change this perception within the Milwaukee community. One way to change this perception is to change the schools name to the University of Milwaukee or Wisconsin State University to separate itself from the other UW-X schools and give it a new identity.

2. Increase Exposure - An expanded athletic program in either football or hockey could lead to more national recognition as well as increased alumni donations. Football would overtime allow for UWM to reach a much larger audience whereas hockey would further establish it within the Midwest. Both of these would help introduce the school to new potential students and in the long run help raise enrollment.

3. Housing - UWM currently has 2,700 beds on campus and receives 12,000 requests for housing each year which forces many students to live off campus or worse yet many students end up turning down UWM and going elsewhere. Local politicians should be encouraged to allow UWM to purchase and convert the former Columbia St. Mary's Hospital and convert the building into new student dormitories. Additionally the city should support new dormitories to be developed within the Eastside and Riverwest as space within the campus is already tight but the demand for housing will only grow as the school grows.

4. International Recruiting - One method that could be used to increase enrollment is to increase the reach for talent by recruiting students worldwide potentially using a plan similiar to what I laid out in the Athens of the Midwest article.

5. Expanding Campus - Encourage UWM to add its proposed additional two campuses within the
city be it in the Park East land or potentially land on the Eastside because spreading the campus throughout the suburbs introduces new hurdles for the school to overcome. For example expanding into the suburbs will make attending UWM more difficult and it will erode its identity. Expansion within the City of Milwaukee will only strengthen it ties to the community and allow more students to attend UWM.

6. Retention. - Programs such as Philadelphia's One Big Campus should be implemented in Milwaukee to increase the retention rate of students after graduation. The importance of retaining the students after graduation is to turn around the "brain drain", increase the overall population of the city, and increase the supply of highly educated citizens.