CUBA CITY—Building a connection between Southwest Wisconsin communities has been a priority of UW-Platteville Chancellor Dennis Shields. On March 15, he spent several hours in Cuba City touring local businesses, meeting with officials, talking with citizens and learning about the city 10 miles south of the college campus.
Shields met with the owners of Gro Alliance, Non-Metallic Components and Weber’s Meats to get an idea of existing and future partnerships in the community. He said he was impressed with Weber’s Meats, a family-owned business that employs 10-15 students from UW-Platteville at any time. He talked with Gro Alliance about ways to coordinate services for research projects, co-ops and internships in the future.
“It’s important for us to reach out and do those sorts of things,” Shields said.
Shields also met with Mayor Tom Gile before holding a roundtable discussion at City Hall. During that talk, Cuba City’s economic development director, Bob Jones, said one-third of Cuba City’s population is age 55 or above. He said the city is being aggressive with creating more housing in the city to attract a larger workforce for the new and expanding businesses. Jones said he hears complaints about businesses needing a bigger labor pool in the area and having difficulty finding the right people for the available jobs. He said when talking to the labor pool, they complain that the jobs don’t pay well and the benefits aren’t comparable to surrounding communities.
Shields said he knows the college needs to interact with local businesses more frequently and engage the students in job opportunities much earlier to encourage them to stay in the area after graduation.
“If you wait until the student is looking for a job as they are graduating, that is a little late in the process for them to be thinking through staying in the area,” Shields said. “That is one of the things we are going to be pushing, more internship and cooperative experiences for students when they are freshmen, sophomores and juniors.”
Cuba City Police Chief Terry Terpstra said he would like to see UW-Platteville students involved in more civic and volunteer activities in the communities surrounding Platteville.
“I know you have the fraternities and sororities that like to get involved in some of that stuff, but I think that is what these communities around here need to see,” Terpstra said. “They see them on a more personal level… to see them as more than students, but potential community members.”
Shields said the college is looking at providing more opportunities to bring the public to the campus, whether it is for open house events or allowing a wider range of use of the school’s facilities.
“There are already a lot of activities going on,” Shields said. “We are starting to get better at publicizing it. Like us on Facebook to see what the faculty and students are doing.”
The campus offers a variety of small projects to be completed by students, including design, business analysis and interns.
“Our biggest asset is the intellectual capital we have,” Shields said.
UW-Platteville has two building projects it is seeking approval for: an engineering building and the completion of renovations at Boebel Hall. The regents have approved both projects, but they are waiting for final approval.“The engineering hall, Sesquicentennial Hall, is the only new construction they recommended,” Shields said. “And then Boebel Hall’s renovation was the No. 1 priority in the renovations. Neither one of those were put in the governor’s recommended budget, but we are working with getting a lot of support from Travis Tranel, Howard Marklein and Todd Novak to make sure there is an investment in Southwest Wisconsin. Those are two important projects. It’s been a few years since the state has made a significant investment in capital projects on our campus. The two residence halls we built were with private partnerships; the state didn’t have to make an investment.”
Shields noted the governor’s compensation plan.
“I’d like to see it done a little differently,” Shields said. “It’s on the back end of the bienniums; there is nothing up front about it and I’d like to see that happen.”
Shields is also pushing for an increase of financial aid available to students, especially need-based aid.
“There hasn’t been an increase in the amount of money that is available in that area from the state in eight years,” Shields said. “There are more students on aid, and the amount that each student gets is getting smaller. If you have a student who has full needs, who comes from really modest means, after we give them all the grants, scholarships and loans, they still have anywhere from a $5,000 to $6,000 gap for their cost of attendance. That is why they’re working 20-30 hours a week. If we are worried about the cost of education, and it takes them five to six years to graduate as opposed to four because they are working, that is part of the issue.”
Shields said UW-Platteville has committed a substantial portion of its budget savings to financial aid in recent years to attempt to help those students with significant financial needs.
“One of the things the governor suggested was cutting tuition by 5 percent and then backfilling that with other aid from the state,” Shields said. “The plan he put forward, if we got our share of that aid, we would still lose $800,000 in that process. It would be a net loss to us. It would amount to savings of about $350 per student. If you think about that, that is one hour less of work a week over the course of the whole school year. So, it is not actually reducing the workload by enough for the people who have the highest need.”
He said he was relieved that they are suggesting investing more in higher education than continuing with the cuts.
“They also have suggested performance-based funding,” Shields said. “I feel it is entirely appropriate for them to hold us accountable, but I know the things we need to be accountable for and we are going to be engaging in those activities irrespective of that performance funding.”
Those activities include retaining students from first year to second year and reducing the time of graduation to 4 years.
“They want a significant portion of the students to stay in state after they graduate,” Shields said. “That is pretty much happening. Eighty percent of our engineering graduates are staying in state already.”
In April, UW-Platteville will be hosting the regents. The regents last visited UW-Platteville in April 2011.
In the last two years, Shields has made similar stops in Prairie du Chien, Richland Center, Fennimore, Lancaster and Dodgeville. More stops are in the works in Southwest Wisconsin, including Darlington and Monroe.
“I look at it all as an opportunity to be advocating for the region,” Shields said.
If groups or organizations in the area would like the college to send a speaker or if businesses would like information on coordinating research or internship opportunities, contact Shields at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 821-acre campus for UW-Platteville includes 20 academic and student services buildings, 13 residential facilities and a 400-acre farm. There are three undergraduate colleges with 130 academic programs. Enrollment is currently at 8,693 students with 900 of those in a graduate program. Students come from 29 countries and 48 states, with 75 percent of the student population from Wisconsin and 21 percent taking part in the Tri-State Initiative. The school has more than 200 clubs and organizations and 16 varsity athletics, with 92 percent of the student population participating in one or more high impact practice. Seventy percent of the students complete an internship before graduating and 22 percent conduct undergraduate research. UW-Platteville celebrated its sesquicentennial milestone in 2016. It is the largest employer in Southwest Wisconsin.