Tom Still

– Kyle Metzloff’s “laboratory” at the UW-Platteville is more accurately a
foundry, a place where students majoring in industrial technology can learn the
fiery secrets of metal-casting.

also a crucible for molding young careers, as all of the students who graduate
from Professor Metzloff’s program land well-paid industrial jobs – usually with
Wisconsin firms tied to the state’s historic metal-casting and foundry sector.

I could say it’s more than a 100 percent placement rate, I would,” Metzloff
said, “because the demand is that high.”

metal-casting program at UW-Platteville is recognized as one of the top five in
the United States and is one of only 30 or so certified by the Foundry
Education Foundation, which has close ties to the American Foundry Society. As
the campus works to absorb cuts in its operational budget, however, its growth
may be restrained despite the fact that it enjoys significant industry support.

story is much the same across the Platteville campus, as well as other
four-year campuses within the UW System, as the ripple effects of state budget
cuts and a general tuition freeze take hold.

UW-Platteville’s share of overall budget cuts estimated at roughly $3.5 million
per year, plans are in the works to make ends meet. Chancellor Dennis Shields
has said the campus will balance its budget while providing “the same
affordable, accessible and high-quality education that has been the standard of
this university for the past 150 years.”

how to get there? Options include looking for new sources of revenue, such as
private gifts, and a mix of spending cuts, some of which involve reductions in
faculty or staff. A recent budget paper estimated about 70 jobs could be lost
at UW-Platteville, mostly by attrition and incentives to retire, but not
entirely so.

no small loss of faculty and staff on a growing, regional campus with about
7,500 students. It’s also a loss to the state economy, especially if hands-on
programs that contribute to productivity in basic fields can’t grow to meet
demand for skilled workers.

foundry program is one example with UW-Platteville’s College of Business,
Industry, Life Sciences and Agriculture. The college produces students who work
in animal science, soils and crops, environmental horticulture, biotechnology,
health care, supply chain management, finance, manufacturing technology,
building construction and occupational safety management.

short, it supplies workers in some of the state’s bread-and-butter business
sectors. However, the numbers show the college has been producing fewer
students in recent years, in part because of constraints on its growth. The
same is largely true in the College of Liberal Arts and Education, which
produces graduates in fields such as criminal justice, humanities and the arts.

budget cuts have forced efficiencies in some areas at UW-Platteville, as they
have on other campuses, as well as stronger partnerships with business and industry.
Once the low-hanging fruit is harvested from the tree, will it become harder to
make cuts without sawing off a few limbs?

question must be confronted in the next state budget cycle, when the governor
and members of the Wisconsin Legislature revisit support for higher education.
While the latest budget figures show a modest $135 million surplus for the
fiscal year that ended June 30, the state will likely grapple with the same
mega-issues – Medicaid, corrections, transportation, K-12 education and higher
education – the next time around.

over-arching issue to be addressed in the next state budget is demographics.
Mounds of data demonstrate an urgent need for Wisconsin to attract and retain
as many skilled workers as possible. With an aging workforce and limited
in-migration, the state cannot afford to lose homegrown workers or turn away
young people from elsewhere who want to get an education here.

economy cannot grow if it consistently loses more workers than it gains. In the
foundry of human talent, more raw material will be needed in the years to come.