One of the factors which attracted me to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for graduate school was the Wisconsin Idea—the belief that the boundaries of the university should be the boundaries of the state. (Yes, that is much more important than being able to see my beloved Packers on television each week—and I’m a shareholder in the team.) As the University of Wisconsin System was formed in the early 1970s, the Wisconsin Idea has been adopted by the rest of the state’s public colleges and universities. While some people say that the Wisconsin Idea has passed its prime due to the focus on arcane research topics, I still think the idea is alive in well.
I saw a great example of the Wisconsin Idea in action at UW-Parkside that made the state newspapers this morning. Two Parkside students did research for a class project and discovered that moving prisoners’ medical records from paper to electronic formats could save millions of dollars and likely improve patient outcomes. This is a win-win for the students (who gain valuable research experience and analytic skills), the university (which gets great publicity), and the state (which should be able to save money).
I have been privileged to study the Wisconsin public higher education system for the past four-plus years through the Wisconsin Scholars Longitudinal Study. It is not uncommon for someone at UW-Madison to look down their noses at the rest of the UW System, but it is critical to recognize the contributions of the entire system toward making Wisconsin a better place to live.