In the war for talent, the UW System is an economic driver

Guest Column by Jay Rothman, President – University of Wisconsin System

When I agreed to serve in my new role after more than 30 years practicing law in Milwaukee, I was drawn to the UW System’s long tradition of making a difference. Our family of 13 universities across 26 campuses – and the people who make us who we are – change the trajectory of lives every single day, drive critical research, improve communities, and move Wisconsin forward with expanded opportunities.

As I toured our universities over the past several months, one thought kept coming back to me – What would the state of Wisconsin look like without the UW System? I ask that you think about that for a moment … Wisconsin would be a very different place and not a better one by any measure.

We are blessed to have two R1 research universities, UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee, that drive innovation every day. Our flagship, UW-Madison, is a research powerhouse recognized around the world. And our 11 comprehensive universities provide bountiful opportunities for hands-on learning and research that enables students to explore their potential and prepare for whatever future lies ahead.

Every year, we educate more than 160,000 students and award about 37,000 degrees – many in high-need areas like nursing, education, engineering, business, computer science, IT, and data science.

Significantly, nine of every 10 Wisconsin resident graduates of UW System schools remain in the state five years after graduation.

Our faculty generates groundbreaking research that improves lives and often leads to patents and new business enterprises. The UW System is a major source of research and innovation with more than $1.5 billion in sponsored research activity annually.

So why does all this matter to Wisconsinites? A recent report from Forward Analytics states that if the migration patterns of the past decade or so persist – more people outbound than inbound – the number of working Wisconsin residents by 2030 will decline by about 130,000!

As Wisconsin’s economic development professionals know all too well, employers are scrambling. There are plenty of great ideas, great plans, and great dreams – but simply not enough employees with the right skills and experience to put them into action. The pool of available people with a four-year or graduate degree who are qualified to meet our needs is simply not large enough. And, if those jobs are not filled in Wisconsin, they will – by necessity – move elsewhere. It is that simple.

In the war for talent, the UW System must be leveraged as the state’s best talent magnet. The economic vibrancy that is driven by human capital must be our top investment.

Our commitment at the UW System is to be an active partner in economic development initiatives. Advancing economic prosperity is one of four key objectives in the UW System’s 2023-2028 Strategic Plan. Part of that is increasing our graduates by over 10% to 41,000 annually to make sure we are doing our part. We look forward to working with everyone committed to ensuring we are developing the talent for Wisconsin’s future.