By Corinne Burgermeister
By many standards, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is a national academic leader: Fifth-best value, according to the Princeton Review, and 27th in an international report. Individual UW-Madison departments rate high. It’s a national leader in research and has an overall graduation rate of 85 percent.
It also does well in fun-and-games ratings: ESPN rates Madison the top college sports town, and it always makes the “best party schools” list.
Caroline Radaj, a UW-Madison tour guide, says visitors are drawn to Madison, which offers a complete package.
“They know Madison is home to Bucky Badger, cheese and the Capitol,” Radaj said. “We live in a city with a campus that many people want to be a part of.”
But, many wonder: Will UW-Madison’s national academic rankings fall in 10 years, if the trend of less state aid continues, if federal budget cuts turn back the cash pipeline of research grants from Washington, and politicians balk at large tuition increases.
When he was UW-Madison chancellor in the 1990s, David Ward said the university did well financially. Ward returned to that job, as interim chancellor, last year.
In March, Ward told journalism students he has never been more worried about UW-Madison’s future and said he has given a lot of thought to how the state’s largest public university will have to change.
“One of my efforts is to rethink to some degree the learning environment,” Ward said. “Most higher education has really depended on a post-World War Two model of classroom—sections, labs.”
Since then, he added, “We’ve gone through a massive technological revolution.”
“There are some things we’ve been meaning to do for ourselves that have one-time costs such as equipment, reconfiguring classrooms, using more video, using more Facebook,” Ward said of the future outlook. “I’m really trying to think of an alternative way to use what we call ‘blended learning’ as a way of responding to this crisis.”
Unlike the 1990s, Ward said, “Just saying that were entitled to money doesn’t work anymore. We’ve got to show some energy that we have a changed agenda that we’d like people to invest in that changed agenda.
“In the past you could be creative as a leader in terms of where resources came from, but today there is a different financial situation surrounding the university,” he added.
UW-Madison students are also worried about its future.
“I hope to see the university expand its public health curriculum,” said biology student Ginelle Zimmerman. “The undergraduate certificate is new and growing rapidly.”
Zimmerman said—in terms of improving undergraduate research—posting job openings on a database would be helpful to pair students with professors conducting research in areas of their interest.
UW-Madison must continue events that physically update buildings and leisure spaces on campus, while also supporting events that build morale, such as Homecoming and the All Campus Party.
To accomplish this, the university developed the campus master plan in 2005, which outlines construction and renovation plans for the next 20 years.
According to its website, the master plan aims to improve teaching, research and student-service facilities by producing new architecture and inviting new spaces, preserving the university’s history and replacing obsolete facilities with new cost-effective ones.
Zimmerman said she would like to see transportation improvements on campus, such as additional pedestrian walkways on busy intersections and a re-examination of current bus routes.
“It would also be really nice to have better parking lots on campus,” Zimmerman said.
Though current students said constant construction on campus can be frustrating, Radaj said she tells visitors the construction invests in the future.
“They’re renovating the [Memorial] Union for everyone that wants to sit on the Terrace in the years to come,” Radaj said. “It comes down to the benefit of everyone and that alumni can come back and visit.”
In addition to physical changes on campus, much advancement is expected to occur win classrooms, according to Ward. He said he expects to incorporate more technology, which would allow students to learn at their own pace.
“But I think it will require some managerial skill to know how to continue to deliver the old way while bringing on the new way online,” Ward said.
University Communications Social Media Manager Alex Kowalsky said although the university as a whole has a strong national presence online, he would like to see the integration of social media sites like Twitter into classes.
Currently, a few library science, communications and journalism courses incorporate Twitter, but Kowalsky suggested that in 10 years a greater portion of classes would rely on online content.
“At the very least, laptops will be outdated and the next best thing after the iPad will be in everyone’s hands,” he said.
Although these improvements will undoubtedly become necessities in the future, Kowalsky said the budget cuts will be the university’s biggest threat to meeting its goals.
“The UW foundation and university are going to have to get creative to remain competitive in finances for attracting TAs and professors,” Kowalsky said.
Radaj also said she believes the budget cuts will be difficult for the university, “because we’ve always been one of the best deals in town.”
Whatever the future holds for UW-Madison, current students envision student life remaining pretty similar.
“In just one day in Madison, you can buy fresh produce at the Farmer’s Market, relax near a beautiful lake, explore trails and catch a free movie,” said Junior Kate Northey. “I hope students continue to make the most of everything this awesome city has to offer.”
Radaj said she hopes future students will relate to all aspects of UW-Madison life.
“I want to sit on the Terrace and see undergrads stressing out about the same things I did, and I want to tell them that it’s going to be okay,” Radaj said.
“I’m going to make my kids be Badgers, but I want to come back and see kids that are just as excited as me to be Badgers.”