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Community Corner: The opportunity of disruption
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There’s much discussion these days about disruption in higher education.

Front and center in the conversation is the notion that innovations will displace established practices. The fear is that new ways of doing business will emerge through which either the old rules don’t apply or do in new and unexpected ways.

At UW–Platteville, we have made it a priority to recognize the innovative nature of disruption and respond to emerging demands while retaining our core values. When stakeholders of a shared challenge collaborate and develop creative solutions, the end result can shift paradigms. It is clear, that at times, the best method to accomplish objectives is to deviate from established practices, thus using disruption as driver of innovative solutions.

A case in point — UW–Platteville is the fastest growing campus in the UW System, which presented disruptive challenges for the campus and community regarding student housing. By developing new residence facilities we could not only create additional student housing, but also enhance our ability to fully engage students in academic and co-curricular activities which data indicates lead to increased retention, higher academic achievement and better graduation rates. The challenge at hand was how to construct two residence halls quicker than the established state practices allowed with limited resources.

We identified the essential players that needed to be part of the solution: The City of Platteville, the UW-Platteville Foundation, a builder/developer with the capacity to offer construction financing, entities that could provide the ultimate financing for the project(s), and our local state representatives. In addition, we also needed a non-profit entity to serve as a manager for the development of the project(s).

Our innovative response to this challenge was the formation of a Real Estate Foundation in partnership with the UW–Platteville Foundation, which is a relatively unique concept in the state of Wisconsin.  In the case of the first of the new residence halls (Rountree Commons), the university, the Real Estate Foundation, and the City of Platteville City Council worked together to develop the residence hall on property adjacent to campus. In regard to the newest residence hall (Bridgeway Commons) the university partnered with the state to construct the residence hall on campus property. We enlisted the support of our local elected representatives State Rep. Travis Tranel (R–Cuba City) and Sen. Dale Schultz (R–Richland Center) understanding that all parties had a shared vision of helping the university and the community meet its needs.

Through these varied collaborations, the result was the construction of two new residence halls in just over two years adding facilities for 1,000 students at significantly less cost than similar projects on campuses in Wisconsin and across the nation, which if pursued by traditional means could have taken three to five years or more to accomplish. Ultimately, by developing an innovative solution to a disruptive challenge, we fulfilled both the immediate and future needs of our university as well as that of our local economy.

There were collateral benefits associated with these projects as well. A major concern tied to the university’s exceptional growth was parking availability on campus and within the surrounding neighborhoods. Through the effort to construct our new residence halls, private developers also recognized and capitalized on the need to construct two new apartment buildings near campus (designed to house upper level students and those who work on or near campus). One of the benefits of higher density housing near the university is reduced traffic since residents tend to walk to campus as opposed to drive. To further reduce traffic congestion, the university sought student input and initiated a shuttle bus system to service both the campus and student housing. Even though the new residence halls were neither the primary motivation for the apartments nor the shuttle, the new innovative process of developing and building the residence halls created a catalyst for other advancements.

The point is that leaders harness the freedom to reinvent and pioneer the disruption, recognizing its inherent opportunity. Through the incorporation of innovative solutions to the disruption of university growth, both UW–Platteville and the surrounding communities not only continue to progressively evolve but also serve as a model for others to emulate.

The Community Corner is a weekly column of opinion written by guest columnists UW–Platteville Chancellor Dennis Shields; Platteville School District Superintendent Connie Valenza; Platteville Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kathy Kopp; Main Street Program Director Jack Luedtke; State Rep. Travis Tranel, Platteville City Manager Larry Bierke and Police Chief Doug McKinley.