Photo: Becky Blank for blog page

Blank’s Slate

A Blog by UW-Madison Chancellor Becky Blank


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.

New e-newsletter highlights partnerships across state

As many of you know, recently I have been visiting some of Wisconsin’s major industries and drawing the linkages between what businesses and researchers accomplish together.

To build on those efforts, today we launch the first issue of Wisconsin Ideas, an email newsletter that shares some of the ways UW-Madison works throughout the state. 


We want to show how people everywhere in the state connect with the university and our research. Many understand our education mission, but fewer understand our research mission, which is absolutely central to Wisconsin. It affects our economy, our health and our quality of life. 

The first issue highlights some of these examples, such as the work we do with Oshkosh Corp., which employs about 100 of our alumni and has a strong history of collaboration with our College of Engineering. Oshkosh recently won a multi-billion dollar defense contract to build a safer, more mobile combat vehicle that will take the place of thousands of Humvees. 

In addition to presenting stories of collaboration and success through research, we are sharing ways in which people, businesses and organizations throughout Wisconsin can engage the university. 

These collaborations are the heart of the Wisconsin Idea. Every university where I have been supports outreach. I’ve never been to a place where that’s built into the DNA as closely as it is here, and I believe it’s critical to our success. 

I invite you to subscribe to this blog to receive the newsletter, which we are sharing with business, community and government leaders throughout the state.

Thank you and On, Wisconsin!

Blank remarks on AAU sexual assault survey

Chancellor Blank shared the following remarks at a Monday news conference about the release of UW-Madison information from the American Association of Universities Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct. View complete details about the university’s participation in the study.

“Thank you all for being here this morning. We’re here to share new information that will help us further strengthen our response to one of the most important issues facing the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and campuses across the country.

Sexual assault concerns me deeply, not just as the leader of this university, but as the mother of a college sophomore. The question on the mind of every parent dropping their son or daughter off at college is always “Will they be safe here?”

I want to state unambiguously that every student has the right to be safe. Sexual violence and misconduct is unacceptable. Far too many sexual assaults are still happening, at UW and at campuses across the country. Continue reading

Cool new research data center comes to UW Campus

It’s no secret that I love data.

My background is in microeconomics, analyzing government data on labor markets, economic well-being and public policy. It wasn’t by accident that I got hired to be the Undersecretary for Economic Affairs at the U.S. Department of Commerce in 2009. Among other things, that meant overseeing the data collection and reporting efforts of the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Statistics. From my perspective, there was nothing more fun than getting briefed on the details of the latest GDP release or the latest income statistics.

So I am excited about the opening of the Wisconsin Federal Statistical Research Data Center (FSRDC) on our campus. The center, located on the third floor of the Sewell Social Sciences Building, will be dedicated on Sept. 21.

The FSRDC allows researchers to access data available only to those with certified and valuable research projects. Among other things, it allows researchers to merge administrative data with survey information.

This is a highly collaborative interdisciplinary endeavor with faculty from six schools and colleges – Agricultural and Life Sciences, Business, Education, Human Ecology, Letters & Science, and Medicine and Public Health – participating in the research.

While 23 FSRDCs have been opened at other universities, this is the first to be opened without funding from the National Science Foundation. Instead, those six schools and colleges pooled resources to fund the center. This center grew entirely from the commitment of our dedicated faculty and staff. Their determination to bring this critical research tool to UW–Madison was sufficient to defeat some major challenges along the way.

This facility will serve researchers throughout the state, both within and outside of the UW System. Prior to this, researchers had to travel to Chicago or Minneapolis to access the data.

Ultimately, the work done at the FSRDC will yield new insights that can help our national and state leaders to make the best possible decisions about how and where to invest public resources. It will provide valuable data to study demographic change, economic circumstances, health issues and the impact and operation of public policies.

These FSRDCs are all about providing more data and better data. To a social scientist like myself, that’s about the most exciting thing you can make happen.

The facility will be officially kicked off with an event at 1 p.m. Monday in Union South. If you are interested in learning more about the FSRDC, go to (

Morgridge Match exceeds all expectations

I am very pleased to announce the results of a major gift which invests in the future of the university and which is already having positive impacts across campus. As you may recall, last fall, two of the university’s most generous benefactors, John and Tashia Morgridge, made the largest individual gift in the university’s history – $100 million – to match gifts from other donors who wished to endow a professorship, chair, or distinguished chair.

Chair and professorship funds help us recruit and retain outstanding faculty members by providing the status of a chaired and named professorship, such as the Hilldale and Bascom professorships. Endowed chairs pay out funds which are used to pay a share of salary and provide research funding to the person holding the chair. We cannot fund named faculty chairs with state or tuition dollars or with federal dollars. Only donor dollars can provide this resource.

The Morgridge gift matched dollars from other donors to establish an endowment for a new named chair or to increase the endowment of a previously established chair, funded at a lower level. This allowed a donor to give $1 million and fund a $2 million endowed chair, with a name selected by the donor.

When the Morgridges’ challenge was publicly announced, I had a number of conversations, guessing how long it would take us to match $100 million. Most people (myself included) figured that it would take us two to three years to fully utilize this gift.

But I should never underestimate the support and generosity of Badger alumni. Within five months of the gift announcement, interest was so strong in this matching program that the Morgridges agreed to match anyone who made a commitment by June 8 rather than holding to a cap of $100 million. Ultimately, by the deadline date and only seven months after the gift was announced, more than 1,000 generous donors stepped forward (individually or in groups) to make an investment in the current and future faculty of the University of Wisconsin, providing more than $124 million in matching dollars.

By the time these gifts are paid, rather than 142 fully endowed professorships and chairs, we will have 300. The ability this provides for us to retain and attract top talent is transformative.

In total, the Morgridge Match effort has generated nearly $250 million in new endowment dollars for the university. These gifts will be invested in the UW Foundation’s endowment and once fully funded, will generate more than $11 million in annual payments to schools and colleges for the faculty who hold these chairs.

Every school and college received at least one new or enhanced chair from the Morgridge Match and the positive effect of these gifts is being felt across campus. For example, the brand new Department of Emergency Medicine in the School of Medicine and Public Health was able to create two endowed chairs in its first year, adding remarkable momentum to its rapid national ascendency. The School of Education has enhanced its endowment for two chairs, which are helping to retain the most sought-after and experienced scholars in the education field. L&S, our largest college at the UW–Madison with more than 750 faculty members, will now have 41 new fully endowed chairs and professorships in departments from History to Computer Sciences.

At UW–Madison, our base budget is like a chair with four legs: public investment through tax dollars; tuition and fees; grant funding (primarily federal dollars) for research; and philanthropy. Without any one of those four sources of funds, the chair collapses.

Over generations, Wisconsin taxpayers have invested in this institution, building it into a world-class place of higher education and research. The state funding and tuition dollars we receive through the biennial budget process pays our faculty and staff, maintains our buildings, and provides financial aid to students with need. In other words, it is absolutely crucial to being able to function as a university.

Funding that we receive from private individuals or companies helps us to leverage our state and tuition dollars. Private donors typically want to fund things that would not happen without their support, often things for which we do not have other dollars available. This includes such items as the renovation of Memorial Union, core support for research centers, dollars for internships or public outreach, or named chairs for our top faculty.

I am incredibly appreciative of the generosity of John and Tashia Morgridge and of every donor who participated in the Morgridge Match. Thank you all! This campus is blessed by your support and generosity.