Final MIU report proves value of targeted funding

February 3, 2015 By Susannah Brooks

Photo: Undergraduate class

A laptop computer provides another resource as students discuss questions and answers in small groups during an open test in an undergraduate zoology class taught by David Abbott in 2012.

Photo:

Over the past five years, the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Madison Initiative for Undergraduates (MIU) has filled in critical gaps at times when shrinking support from state and federal sources might have eroded aspects of the undergraduate experience.

As the Office of Academic Planning and Institutional Research (APIR) releases MIU’s fifth and final progress report, campus leaders agree: The initiative has had a positive, long-lasting impact.

“MIU has been an enormously successfully way to improve the educational experience for our students. It shows that new dollars — wisely spent — can make a real difference,” says Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “The initiative has increased access, reduced time to graduation, and inspired our instructors and staff to seek out innovative ways to make their teaching and advising more effective. We owe it to our students — both now and in the future — to make sure their Wisconsin Experience is the best we can provide.”

“MIU has been an enormously successfully way to improve the educational experience for our students. It shows that new dollars — wisely spent — can make a real difference.”

Rebecca Blank

MIU was approved in April 2009 by the Board of Regents and was initiated in the fall of 2009. The annual MIU investment of $40 million, derived from a supplemental tuition charge, was divided equally between funding for instructional support and student services and funding for need-based financial aid.

In all, 57 projects were funded in three rounds of competitive allocation. By emphasizing high-impact practices that make the learning experience more interactive and effective, MIU has provided the university with direct improvements that give students the flexibility necessary in today’s working world, both globally and in Wisconsin.

From the outset, MIU funding had several goals. It was intended to ensure that the university could offer the courses and majors students need to complete degrees, pursue a range of intellectual interests and prepare for a range of careers. It ensured that UW–Madison could provide critical student services, such as academic and career advising and peer-mentoring programs, to prepare them more effectively for a changing world of work.

Most importantly, it ensured that affordability would no longer be a significant barrier to a UW–Madison education.

MIU helped shoulder the burden of the two largest first-year classes in UW–Madison’s history. In the years before MIU took shape, about 75 faculty and instructional positions had been eliminated, creating a bottleneck effect that prevented students from taking the courses they needed to graduate or move ahead in their majors.

“We knew we had a certain amount of money to work with, and we made very hard decisions in … moving forward. The MIU money really jumpstarted people’s focus, and made these ideas real.”

Jocelyn Milner

By maintaining new faculty hiring and adding 78 new faculty positions over the five-year period, the university was able to increase capacity for undergraduate majors and required “gateway courses” in high-demand areas.

Better access to required courses is one component of helping students graduate on time — a key focus of MIU. Since the initiative began, time to degree has improved steadily. For 2013-14 graduates, average time to degree was 4.16 years, improved from 4.20 years for the class of 2008-09 and 4.29 years for the class of 2002-03.

Time and time again, employers say that they look for graduates who can demonstrate real-world savvy. MIU funds provided support for original research, internships and other hands-on work — particularly for students who wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of these experiences without pay.

Remarkably, the initiative helped achieve these gains while helping reduce the financial burden of college and post-college debt.

The initiative distributed $90 million in need-based grants since 2009. Since fall 2008, the percent of financial need met by institutional grant aid increased from 15 percent to 21 percent. MIU has offset a decline in the share of state gift aid, federal gift aid, and need met by subsidized loans.

At the same time, the Common Scholarship Application helped more students than ever to access department-level scholarships, supporting awards of $3.1 million to 7,660 students in the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

“We knew we had a certain amount of money to work with, and we made very hard decisions in choosing projects and moving forward,” says Jocelyn Milner, director of APIR. “The MIU money really jumpstarted people’s focus, and made these ideas real.”

“We set a trajectory for the quality of the Wisconsin Experience, keeping students, faculty and staff excited … We hope to keep the momentum going.”

Eden Inoway-Ronnie

Still, the gains achieved through these innovative projects may be at risk in a tightened budget environment.

“We’ve demonstrated our priority of looking at the long-term value of a UW–Madison education,” says Eden Inoway-Ronnie, chief of staff in the Office of the Provost, who has been closely involved with the initiative since the planning stages. “We needed the flexibility to use tuition as a way to continue to keep it affordable and keep the quality high.”

UW-Madison has been a model for other universities, presenting the results at major conferences including that of the Higher Learning Commission, the regional agency overseeing accreditation for colleges and universities.

Looking forward, the aid and positions funded by MIU are built into the university’s budget; they do not end with the close of MIU’s five-year period of observation. The spirit of innovation will continue through initiatives such as Educational Innovation and the day-to-day work of newer MIU-funded entities such as the Office of Undergraduate Advising.

Regardless of what happens in the future, the success of MIU is clear.

“We set a trajectory for the quality of the Wisconsin Experience, keeping students, faculty and staff excited about what’s happening in and out the classroom,” says Inoway-Ronnie. “We hope to keep the momentum going.”