Fourth year of MIU brings stability, success

Dec. 10, 2013

by Susannah Brooks

UW soology class

The fourth-year project report on the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates reports that it has added $40 million annually to the university’s base budget in support of quality undergraduate experiences.

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When the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates (MIU) first went public in 2009, the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus – and the state of Wisconsin itself – looked very different.

Despite major changes in state and federal funding, campus administration and higher education, MIU is still going strong.

A committee of faculty, staff and students selected the 54 MIU projects from nearly 200 proposals in a competitive review process. According to MIU’s fourth-year project report, the initiative has added $40 million annually to the university’s base budget in support of quality undergraduate experiences.

Meanwhile, state funding has increased at only a modest rate; tuition froze beginning in the fall of 2013. Nationally, many universities have cut spending in key areas impacting undergraduates.

In tough times, these projects have flourished, keeping UW-Madison’s standards high.

Chris Olsen

Chris Olsen

“Universities across the country have dealt with many challenges over the last five years,” says Chris Olsen, interim vice provost for teaching and learning. “The flexibility provided by MIU funding – and the high-impact experiences provided by these targeted projects – will help UW-Madison stay at the forefront of undergraduate education while remaining accessible to talented students.”

For two years in a row, UW-Madison welcomed its largest freshman classes ever. MIU helped shoulder the burden, maintaining new faculty hiring at about 110 new faculty per year – even as many peerinstitutions have reduced recruiting efforts. Faculty funding has provided increased capacity for undergraduate majors in high demand areas.

“Had we not done MIU, we would be in a really bad situation,” says Nancy Westphal-Johnson, senior associate dean for undergraduate education and academic administration in the College of Letters & Science. “We’ve implemented MIU at a time of budgetary stress while we welcome more students than ever. But we’re providing students with a richer experience than probably ever had before.”

As the initiative’s projects moved from paper to reality, they inspired larger ideas.

Nancy Westphal-Johnson

Nancy Westphal-Johnson

“MIU started by thinking about ways to address course bottlenecks,” says Westphal-Johnson. “When you look at the mature MIU, you’re seeing enhanced curricula, and expansions into areas where students are developing skills that we might not have been able to address otherwise.”

In several key undergraduate programs, this added faculty capacity has led to curricular reform, including the development of new courses and course areas.

  • In the Department of Political Science, a new concentration prepares students to do more data work: skills essential for jobs in political consulting and campaigns.
  • In the Department of History, a renewed focus on original research skills added a central course and introduced it earlier in the curriculum.
  • In the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, opportunities have increased for students at all levels to train in emerging areas of digital media production and digital skills.

“When you look at the learning outcomes making a great impact on our students being able to successfully find jobs and careers, having the skills to be able to conduct original research is a big deal,” says Westphal-Johnson.

MIU funding has also deepened the Wisconsin Experience through high impact practices. Two projects have provided significant support for internships, uniting classroom learning with the real-world experience that employers crave.

In 2012-13, 100 students took part in Internships in the Liberal Arts, up from 68 in its first year. 90 percent of participants participated in their first internship.

“Reducing the financial burden of college is critical when preparing students for success after graduation, particularly when we’re trying to add value to a UW-Madison education. Any time we’re able to do so, it’s a great source of pride.

Chris Olsen

Behind the goal of enabling more L&S students to complete internships is the need to have the demographic background of internship students reflect (at minimum) the diversity of the overall student body. Internships can affect finances in several ways.

“Students have to maintain full-time status to remain eligible for certain parts of their financial aid packages; if they want to find time for an internship, they may risk their financial aid status or need to take time off,” says Stephanie Salazar Kann, internship coordinator for Letters & Science Career Services. “Being able to offer a for-credit program has allowed students who wouldn’t have otherwise been able to stay at a full-time credit load to pursue internships – and graduate on time.”

Interning in another country combines two high-impact learning practices at once. The number of participants in the International Internship Program (IIP) grew from 28 in 2010-11 to 85 in 2012-13, increasing the number of international partner sites from four to 33.

The program’s emphasis on global competency dovetails with additional skills in UW-Madison’s Essential Learning Outcomes: working effectively in varied cultures, communicating effectively across cultural and linguistic boundaries, creativity, flexibility and resilience.

“An internship alone is a valuable experience, and an international experience alone is a valuable experience,” says Laura Bechard, a 2013 graduate who spent a summer with the U.S. State Department in Barcelona, Spain. “Add them together, and you have something really incredible.”

Remarkably, MIU’s successes have not come at the cost of access. When MIU was conceived, many wondered how the university could raise tuition while remaining accessible to students with financial need.

Half of the MIU funds were committed to need-based financial aid, As a result, institutional aid now makes up 22 percent of the total need-based aid going to UW-Madison students, up from 15 percent before MIU.

In its first four years, MIU funding distributed $50.9 million in need-based grants. As of October 2013, 6,742 students had been awarded $20.4 million in MIU‐funded need‐based financial aid for 2013‐14.

Grants are not the only way that MIU has impacted financial aid. The Common Scholarship Application, a one-stop shop for students to access department-level scholarships, supported the awarding of $2.27 million to 1,041 students, up from 720 in 2011-12.

“Reducing the financial burden of college is critical when preparing students for success after graduation, particularly when we’re trying to add value to a UW-Madison education,” says Olsen, reflecting on MIU’s impact. “Any time we’re able to do so, it’s a great source of pride.”