Photo: Becky Blank for blog page

Blank’s Slate

A Blog by UW-Madison Chancellor Becky Blank


Address to the UW System Board of Regents

Speaking to the Board of Regents on Feb. 4, 2016, Chancellor Blank urged a renewed commitment to keeping UW–Madison among the top public universities at a time when peer institutions are seeing greater investment from their respective states.

Campus support for student voting under new Wisconsin Voter ID law

One of our missions as an American educational institution is to prepare and encourage everyone who passes through the university to be an active, engaged citizen. Voting is one important aspect of this. It is essential to our democratic form of government and a responsibility that comes with citizenship.

UW–Madison has an obligation to ensure that our students have an awareness of and access to the electoral process, particularly since many students will have their first opportunity to vote during their time on campus. During the passage of Wisconsin’s voter ID law in 2011, we actively worked with legislators to ensure that colleges and universities had the ability to issue voter ID cards to our students.

Despite being passed in 2011, implementation of the voter ID law was put on hold for several years as court challenges were settled. Last March, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court’s decision to uphold the law, and the first statewide elections in which voters in Wisconsin are required to show an ID will be held February 16 (Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice primary) and April 5 (Spring Election and Presidential Preference Primary) this year.

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A last look back on 2015

The year 2015 has certainly been an eventful time at UW-Madison.

We’ve lived through state budget cuts and continue to work on new policies that appropriately respond to changes in state statutes related to tenure. While these developments have been significant and challenging on many levels, and they have generated extensive headlines, they are only a part of the story for this University over the past year.

As we embark on a new year, I’d like to take a moment to note that the many amazing and positive developments on campus this past semester that have received less coverage.

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2015 Winter Commencement remarks

Chancellor Rebecca Blank’s Winter Commencement remarks, delivered 10 a.m. on December 20, 2015 at the Kohl Center. 

Good morning, everyone. I want to hear that you’re awake! Good morning!

Excellent. It’s always fun in the Kohl Center to have this whole crowd of people.

Welcome to the winter 2015 commencement of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Let’s start with a round of applause for all of our graduates. Congratulations!

I also want to extend a very warm welcome to family and friends. They are one of the reasons why all of our graduates got here today, and in appreciation for everything they have done, let’s give them a round of applause as well.

Today we are going to confer more than 2,000 undergraduate degrees and nearly 1,200 graduate and professional degrees. For each of today’s graduates, we celebrate the end of your life as a student at the University of Wisconsin and the beginning of your next adventure.

For the undergraduates here today, that adventure might be very different from the one you imagined for yourself when you arrived here just a few short years ago. As you’ve embraced everything this campus has to offer, you’ve probably been aware of how much you’ve been learning about different topics … but you might not have realized how much you’ve been learning about yourselves.

I hope that your time here has helped you to discover that place where what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about comes together. Because that’s the place where your life’s work awaits you.

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UW–Madison’s budget, illustrated

I know we are all very busy as the semester draws to a close, but I wanted to put a quick note here to announce the release of the 2015-16 University of Wisconsin–Madison Budget in Brief.

This is the second year that the Office of University Relations, working with our vice chancellor for finance and administration, has assembled this document. Because our budget is so complex, I asked them to put the essential information in a clear, easy-to-navigate document.

To tell the story, the Budget in Brief uses words, graphics and charts to illustrate the university’s revenue sources and how they are distributed, and provide information about funding sources, expenditures, student financial aid, fund balances and the university’s economic impact.

An online version of the Budget in Brief is available. In the coming days, print copies are being distributed to state and local government officials, legislators, deans and unit directors, and alumni. If you don’t receive a copy and would like one, email Greg Bump.


A message to our community

Members of the Campus Community,

In recent days, incidents at Mizzou and other universities have sparked a national conversation about equity and inclusion in higher education.

Here in Madison, last night’s Black Out March brought together hundreds of Badgers of all races and ethnicities. It was a powerful example of our community uniting to support those at Mizzou, fighting to end racism and pressing for improvements in our own institutional efforts. Continue reading

Good News: Student Outcomes at UW-Madison Continue to Improve

It’s been a very busy last couple of weeks but I’d like to pause for a second to go back and highlight a piece of extremely positive news that not everybody noticed.

I often talk about students and the experience and success they experience here and it’s more than just public relations. We are seeing outcomes that are historic for UW-Madison.

According to the Office of Academic Planning and Institutional Research, this fall’s freshman-sophomore retention rate is 95.8 percent, up from 95.3 percent the previous year. It is the third year in a row the university eclipsed a retention rate of more than 95 percent, and the best rate we’ve ever had.  This is well above most of our public peers and comparable to the rates many very good smaller liberal arts colleges achieve.

In more good news, we’ve set a record for the four-year graduation rate at 60.3 percent, an improvement in the previous high of 57.1 percent set last year.  The six-year graduation rate of 85.1 percent is up from 84.8 percent — the first time since we began making these measurements in the 1980s that we’ve been over 85 percent for the six-year cohort.  This is also above many of our peer schools.

Those rates may seem low to you, but they are the percentage of students who start at UW-Madison and graduate from UW-Madison. If we look at alternative data, that provides information on whether those who start at UW-Madison graduate with a four-year degree from any school (data that is only available with a lag), we can add about 3 points to the 4-year graduation rate and about 6 points to the 6 year graduation rate. Our graduated-anywhere rate is about 90 percent.

Average time to degree, an excellent indicator of how well we are meeting our students needs by getting them access the classes they need to graduate, is now 4.13 years. This is the lowest figure since we started measuring in the early 1980s. More than half of the students who graduate finish in four academic years (3.7 calendar years.)   It is worth noting that lowering time to degree reduces costs for students and their families.

Even more impressive, these improvements have occurred even as our class sizes have grown.  Compare to ten years ago, we have 600 more freshmen in 2015, and 1100 more total undergraduates. That illustrates a point that’s clear when you look across Big 10 schools: schools with many similarities in size and student body still have quite different outcome statistics. In short, if you are doing a good job providing class access, advising, financial aid, and other tools that assist students, big schools like UW-Madison can show very good outcomes.

These are all encouraging trends for students and families who are concerned with the cost of earning a degree, and the value they get for their tuition dollars. These metrics are also hot button issues for policymakers who want to see that schools are delivering for students who make an investment in higher education.

I know that many on campus have worked extremely hard to improve time to degree and retention rates, whether it’s in teaching, student life, advising, career services, student health, policing or planning.

I am thankful for your efforts and I hope you take as much pride in this good news as I have. For a deeper dive on our graduation and retention rates, go to

For the next 167 years …

Homecoming is always an exciting time of year. Our alumni return to campus and reconnect with friends, relive old memories, and once again breathe in the atmosphere that makes the University of Wisconsin–Madison the very special place it is.

This year’s homecoming is especially momentous because we are launching the fourth – and most ambitious — comprehensive fundraising campaign in our history. We’re expecting close to a thousand alumni and friends in the Kohl Center on Thursday night for the big event.

UW–Madison became a world-class teaching and research institution because of 167 years of investment from the people of Wisconsin, men and women who believed that higher education is a pathway to a better life for their sons and daughters. Since 1848, we have partnered with business, industry, education, and political leaders to build one of the world’s finest public universities.

We seek to continue this partnership for the next 167 years and beyond.

But no university, public or private, can achieve excellence in today’s world without the generosity and involvement of alumni and friends. This campaign will ask them to help shape and ensure our future impact on the world. The four primary fundraising priorities are:

  • Supporting faculty excellence
  • Providing student support
  • Improving the educational experience of our students, and
  • Supporting research and innovation.

This public launch comes at the end of two years of focused effort and preparation during the so-called ‘quiet phase’ of the campaign. During this time, deans and department chairs worked hard to develop campaign-funding plans for their units. We also began stepped-up fundraising efforts that have been remarkably successful. A number of generous gifts have given us great momentum going into this launch:

  • A transformative gift of nearly $125 million from alums John and Tashia Morgridge, who pledged to match any donor who wanted to endow a professorship, a chair or a distinguished chair. Prior to the Morgridge gift, we had 142 fully funded chairs and professorships. We now will have 300 fully endowed faculty chair and professorship funds at schools and colleges all across this campus.
  • A $50 million gift from alums Ab and Nancy Nicholas to match donations to create endowed scholarship and fellowship funds. Announced just this summer, the Nicholas match has already inspired nearly $10 million in additional gifts.
  • A $25 million commitment from the Grainger Foundation to the Grainger Institute for Engineering, followed by an additional $22 million gift from the Grainger Foundation to enrich undergraduate education in the College of Engineering.
  • A $28 million gift from alums Jerome and Simona Chazen in the form of several valuable pieces of art from their private collection, an additional gift of $5 million for the Chazen Museum building, and $3 million to establish the Chazen Family Distinguished Chair in Art and the Simona and Jerome Chazen Distinguished Chair in Art History.

These gifts are a sign of the level of support we have from our alumni, and the ways in which alumni support can enhance the many things we do that make UW–Madison a tremendous asset to our community and our state.

Gift dollars are critically important, but it’s very important to understand that they are not substitutes for state or tuition dollars. It’s important to clearly note what private gift funds can—and can’t—do.

First, gifts are tied to donor intent and are typically designed to fund specific programs. Donors want to support programs that wouldn’t happen without their funding.

Second, many donor gifts are not spendable in the near term; they are endowments which provide annual support in perpetuity. Endowment funds are invested and managed by the Foundation, and will pay out 4.5 percent annually. So when you hear that we have $250 million for new faculty chairs, our spendable money from that endowment is about $11.25 million a year.

Third, many gifts pledged now are not paid out until far into the future. So announced gifts are not the same as available endowment funding.

In the end, state dollars and gift dollars are complements to each other, not substitutes. It is a case of both/and, not either/or. Stronger state support will only bring in more donor support.

As you walk around campus this week and take in the beautiful weather, the Homecoming parade, the football game, and even the flamingos on the hill on Friday, take a moment to especially welcome our alumni back. It is in large part through their generosity that we will transform our institution for the next 167 years.

“State of the University” speech

As prepared for delivery to the Faculty Senate, Oct. 5, 2015.

Good afternoon. It’s always good to see all of you at the beginning of a new academic year. I hope you had a good and productive summer and that the fall semester is well-launched in your departments.

Before I begin, I want to note the wonderful news today that Dr. William Campbell, who received his doctorate here in 1957, has won the Nobel Prize in medicine for his work on drugs to fight tropical diseases like malaria.

This is the 22nd time the Nobel Prize has been awarded to a UW-Madison faculty member or alum, and a proud moment for us.

I want to say a warm welcome to the new senators, and extend my thanks to a number of people here.

First, thank you to Beth Meyerand for stepping into the role of UC chair, and to Anja Wanner and Ruth Litovsky, who are new members on the UC, succeeding Jo Ellen Fair and Grant Petty.

Next, thank you to Secretary of the Faculty Steve Smith, who has done a terrific job in the midst of some challenges. His deep understanding of this campus and what it takes to support world-class faculty in the current environment are of enormous value.

And finally, thanks to all of you for your willingness to provide leadership on this campus and to serve on the Faculty Senate. Continue reading

Why new admission policies are needed to meet Wisconsin’s need for a strong workforce

Update: The proposal was passed by the UW Board of Regents on Oct. 9. Chancellor Blank has pledged to enroll 3,600 Wisconsin residents.

This week, the UW System and UW-Madison will bring a proposal to the Board of Regents to waive the enrollment cap on non-resident students, allowing a modest increase in their numbers, for the next four years while continuing to enroll at least 3,500 in-state high school grads in every freshman class.

I first started talking about this idea last spring and I am thankful that the board is considering it. It’s designed to address an acute problem facing Wisconsin businesses: a shortage of highly qualified employees.

This proposal is driven by the serious demographic challenges in the state of Wisconsin. The number of Wisconsin high school graduates peaked at 71,000 in 2009 and has been falling since. For 2015 there are projected to be only 64,100 high school graduates, and the number is expected to remain virtually flat over the following five years and fall even further in the future (figure 1).

High School Graduate Projection

At the same time, the number of working-age citizens is declining, a problem that will only worsen as the number of high school graduates declines (figure 2). Many businesses indicate they are challenged to find workers. A ready supply of skilled and able workers is often central to company location decisions.

In short, the state of Wisconsin needs to retain and attract as many young workers into the state as possible.

Wisconsin Population/Labor Force

UW-Madison is uniquely positioned to help on two fronts. First, as the highest ranked school in the state, we have the best chance to keep the very top high school students in the state for college. Many of our admittees, if they don’t come here, go to out-of-state schools. That greatly increases the likelihood they will accept jobs out of state and not return to Wisconsin. Our admissions office has stepped up its efforts to reach out to top Wisconsin students from across the state. This includes contacting high-performing students earlier (before their senior year), creating a new campus-wide “Experience Wisconsin” event with an expected attendance of over 1,000 prospective students and their family members, bringing top admitted Wisconsin students to special events like the Chancellor’s Reception, and partnering with alumni volunteers to identify and court prospective Wisconsin students.

In the face of declining numbers of high school graduates, our commitment to enroll at least 3,500 Wisconsin freshmen is a commitment to this state. We actually enrolled fewer freshmen in 2009, the year high school graduates peaked, and we have been at or above 3,500 in every year since then. If high school graduates continue to decline, we will be enrolling an increasing share of the high school class in Wisconsin. That means we’ll have to work hard to recruit the best and the brightest Wisconsin high school grads to come to Madison. (It is also worth noting that UW-Madison regularly enrolls another 700 to 800 Wisconsin residents each year as transfer students, and it will continue to enroll these students as well.)

Our second responsibility is equally important. As one of the top-ranked schools in the nation, we attract highly skilled young people from around the world to Wisconsin. This is an opportunity for the state to retain these individuals after they graduate.

It’s not a surprise that Wisconsin residents are more likely to stay in the state following graduation. Among our Wisconsin students, 72 percent are in the state in the year following graduation. Among non-resident students, 15 percent stayed in Wisconsin in the year following graduation in 2014. We’re partnering with UW System to do all we can to raise those numbers. That means collaborating with Wisconsin-based businesses and industry groups like Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce or the Wisconsin Technology Council. We need more Wisconsin businesses engaged at UW-Madison, sponsoring events, offering internships, and getting known by students before job interviews in their senior year. If students know Wisconsin companies, they are more likely to be interested in interviewing with them and working for them.

Given today’s demographics, the 27.5 percent enrollment limit for non-residents no longer makes sense at UW-Madison, particularly as the number of high school graduates in Wisconsin declines. UW-Madison is highly competitive nationally and internationally for undergraduates, but is one of the few schools in the Big Ten that has a policy that limits nonresident enrollment. Removing this limit will allow UW-Madison to compete on a level playing field with peer universities nationally.

Should the board approve our recommendation, there would not be a drastic change in our enrollment profile. We estimate that with our current classroom and housing capacity we can accommodate a few hundred more non-resident students per year.

The request to the Board of Regents is to waive this enrollment limit for four years. We’ll need to report regularly on what we’re doing. Critics have charged that we are doing this only for budgetary reasons. It is true that there are budget advantages to this proposal, which can’t be overlooked in the current higher education climate. But the demographics in Wisconsin clearly show that this is a policy change that we should be making in any case regardless of the budget situation.

It is worth noting that if we continue to enroll Wisconsin students in about the same numbers as the past, this ensures access to UW-Madison. This fall, our admission rate for Wisconsin high school grads was more than 67 percent, and that’s the average admission rate among Wisconsin applicants over the past 20 years. In short, Wisconsin students who apply to UW-Madison have a good chance of getting in, far above the 42 percent admission rate among non-Wisconsin students.

By shifting from a percentage to a numerical enrollment requirement for Wisconsin residents, we will be able to focus on recruiting talented Wisconsin students and encouraging their enrollment, while also allowing Wisconsin businesses to benefit from our strong out-of-state applicant pool.