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Board of Regents president visits UW-River Falls

February 3, 2011

After visiting the UW-River Falls campus and the Hudson Center on Jan. 18 and 19, the President of the Board of Regents Charles Pruitt, said he was very impressed.

In an email, Pruitt said that UWRF is one of his favorite campuses in the system and he was struck by the quality of student and faculty and the great leadership being provided by Chancellor Dean Van Galen and his team.

The rest of the email he devoted to talking about the Hudson Center and the need to increase graduates in the state of Wisconsin.

Pruitt said he thought the Hudson Center was a great addition to the St. Croix Valley and said it will play a vital role in expanding UWRF’s reach into new populations. Located in the Carley Ponds office building off Hadley Avenue, the Hudson Center caters to non-traditional students and currently has 237 students enrolled.  Most of the students enrolled are adults who may have had some schooling in the past but have not earned a degree.

“The St. Croix Valley is one of the fastest growing regions in Wisconsin, in large part because of the location within the greater metropolitan area of Minneapolis and St. Paul,” Van Galen said.

The director of the Hudson Center, Blake Fry, said Van Galen chose Hudson as the location for a number of reasons.

According to the latest census data available, there are 6,000 adults 25 years and older within a five mile radius of the Hudson Center who have some college credit but do not have a college degree.

“If we are going to produce more graduates, it is going to have to be from non-traditional areas, because the number of high school graduates in Minnesota and Wisconsin over the next few years is taking a major dive,” Fry said.  Fry also noted that the Hudson center is conveniently located off Interstate 94, where 90,000 cars drive a day.

The Hudson Center is a way to increase the number of Wisconsin degree holders, an initiative that the UW System, and Pruitt in particular, have been working on.

Wisconsin lags behind Minnesota and the United States average in adults with a four-year degree.  The per capita income in Wisconsin also is less than Minnesota and the U.S. average, according to a report written by Pruitt and former Board of Regents President Jay Smith.

The study states that if the number of Wisconsin residents with four-year degrees increases, 80,000 more by 2025, the state’s economy would thrive.

In order to take on the additional students, the universities within the system need support in the form of funding from the state, Van Galen said. In a time of state budget deficits, state support for higher education has decreased and poses significant challenges, Van Galen added.

“If you look at the last 15 years, the percentage of the state budget devoted to higher education has decreased, as investment in other areas such as corrections has increased,” Van Galen said.

“I think the state of Wisconsin needs to reflect on the investment that higher education represents for the long-term good of the state.”

Pruitt and the Board of Regents are making the case across the state that the University of Wisconsin needs to be a priority when it comes to the state budget.

“We are convinced that the university is a vital part in growing our economy and investing now will pay major dividends in helping Wisconsin get out of the current recession and into stronger economic future,” Pruitt said.

Until the 2011-13 biennial budget is announced, Van Galen said UWRF will continue to focus on making sure students are retained and succeed in receiving a college degree.

Said Van Galen, “If the next biennial budget severely cuts funding to higher education, the Hudson Center will continue to grow while not draining UWRF resources.”

“The initiative such as the Hudson Center represents a new way to serve students that does not tax our on campus facilities and over time should provide the university with additional revenue,” Van Galen said.