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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Community members, leaders look to future of Wisconsin at UW System listening session

Wisconsin’s aging workforce, bettering relationships with businesses emerge as topics of concern
Emma Palasz

University of Wisconsin System leaders made a stop in Madison on their listening tour Thursday to hear community members’ insight on how make improvements.

About 25 community members — ranging from general community members to leaders in business, education and government — gathered at UW System’s listening session at the Alliant Energy Center. 

At the listening session, three main themes echoed throughout every discussion table: college affordability, attracting and retaining students and forging better relationships between K-12 education, technical and four-year colleges and Wisconsin businesses.


UW System President Ray Cross and UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank have been traveling around the state since September for a series of 14 listening sessions, hearing out community members on what they think are the UW System’s biggest issues and how to address them in a strategic plan.

Their first stop was at UW-La Crosse Sept. 1.

On the road: UW System leaders travel around Wisconsin, connect UW to communities

The strategic plan, which Cross said will likely be finalized in Spring 2016, is meant to bring transparency, accountability and efficiency to the way the UW System operates, according to the UW System’s website.

UW-Madison hosted two listening sessions Thursday — one general session, and one dedicated to the global impact of the UW System.

UW System President weighs in

In an interview with The Badger Herald, Cross said the main topics of concern he heard throughout all the listening sessions so far were the growing age gap in Wisconsin’s workforce, the need for better collaboration between all levels of education and a stronger connection to Wisconsin businesses.

“You have to ask, ‘what are your dreams for the state?’” Cross said. “The future of state is so tightly connected to the university. It’s almost impossible to separate them.”

Cross said the future of the state goes back to the Wisconsin Idea and how the UW System can serve the state.

He specifically emphasized the need to connect UW System students to local businesses. He mentioned making connections with Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, but did not point to any plans to connect with other industries yet.

Regardless, he said a main goal of the UW System is to encourage students to not only attend a UW school for their higher education, but to stay and work in the state after they graduates.

“I don’t care if you’re from Colorado,” Cross said. “Every student should understand the opportunities they have to work and live here in Wisconsin.”

In terms of when the strategic plan will be in full form, Cross said he is already thinking about some of those ideas.

Some ideas that emerged from round table talks at the general listening session included advancing technology, creating better campus-community relationships and using the UW System’s research capabilities toward sustainability efforts.

“Some ideas are so compelling that we are already trying to collaborate,” Cross said.

Community members with UW System president Ray Cross, center, discuss ideas for UW System strategic plan
Emma Palasz/The Badger Herald

Cross said campus leaders are supposed to be engaging students in the issues that are otherwise being discussed at these listening sessions.

Workforce gaps as emerging problem

James Langnes III, who serves as a student regent for the UW Board of Regents, said another emerging problem is Wisconsin’s skills gap in the workforce.

“The unemployment rate is low compared to other states, but businesses are having problems filling jobs,” Langnes said.

He said jobs ranging from high administration positions to welders to nurses all have job openings, but they cannot find people with the proper skill set to fill them.

Gov. Scott Walker noted a similar problem when he visited Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin Wednesday, WKOW reported. Walker said contractors told him they have jobs available, but workers with the right skill set aren’t coming forward to claim them.

The next UW System listening sessions are planned for UW-Milwaukee and UW-Parkside on Oct. 28 and Nov. 3, respectively.

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