The Madison Initiative for Undergraduates helps Wisconsin students to graduate sooner and with less debt. It is a prime example of our university using new resources effectively to improve the experience of our students.

Former Chancellor Biddy Martin launched the program in 2009 with the goal of improving value, quality and affordability of undergraduate education. Approximately $40 million in undergraduate tuition is set aside and divided equally between instructional support and student services, and funding for need-based aid.

I highlighted the MIU in this blog last year, and I am happy to say that the news this year is just as good. One of the most important facts in a new report on the program is that time-to-degree has been improving steadily since the MIU was initiated. For 2013-14 graduates, average time to degree was 4.16 years, improved from 4.20 years for 2008-09 grads and 4.29 years for the class of 2002-03. In addition, our first-year retention rate, or new freshmen in fall 2013 who went on to enroll in fall 2014, was 95.3 percent, the highest ever recorded at UW–Madison.

Furthermore, gains have been made across groups that have historically had somewhat lower graduation rates, including men, low income students, students who are first generation in college, and targeted minority students.

One of the reasons this is happening is that some of the MIU dollars were used to hire faculty in high-demand, introductory courses. Our current faculty headcount of 2,220 is the highest since 2005. Overall, the report shows that MIU has helped to stabilize the undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio during a time of growing enrollment. In 2014 the ratio was 13.2 students to each faculty member, down from 13.5 the prior year.

In the past five years, more than $90 million in MIU-funded financial aid has been distributed to students. In the MIU era, annual institutional financial aid has increased from $6.9 million in 2008-09 to $30.1 million in 2014-15.

In 2013-14, 7,265 students received aid from MIU dollars. Low income students from inside our state have seen their loan burden reduced due to the program. The percentage of financial need met by UW–Madison has improved from 15 percent in 2008 to 21 percent, more than offsetting declines in state and federal gift aid and reducing students’ reliance on subsidized loans.

As I’ve written before, we are in a difficult budget climate. We are facing a major reduction in the amount of support we receive from the state. I am grateful for programs like MIU – which is not reliant on outside funding – that help improve the quality of the Wisconsin experience for our students while exposing them to less debt.