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UW System: A positive investment

Lisa Ecker entered UW-River Falls in 2014 after growing up in the small town of Wanamingo, Minnesota. Upon graduation in 2017, she was offered a job as a project engineer at GEA in Hudson, Wisconsin, with a starting salary of $65,000 a year. She ...

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Lisa Ecker entered UW-River Falls in 2014 after growing up in the small town of Wanamingo, Minnesota. Upon graduation in 2017, she was offered a job as a project engineer at GEA in Hudson, Wisconsin, with a starting salary of $65,000 a year. She is now working on projects that allow her to travel around the country.

"Reflecting back on my time at UW-River Falls, I am very grateful for the opportunities I had as part of a friendly campus of just over 6,000 students," Ecker said. "I had the benefit of great educational experiences with small class sizes and yet had access to global partners. UW-River Falls connected me with my summer internship as well as provided me with the opportunity to study abroad in India."

Across Wisconsin, there are hundreds of thousands of Lisa Eckers earning good salaries, paying taxes and giving back to their communities - spurred on by the degrees they earned at University of Wisconsin System institutions like UW-River Falls.

With another academic year getting underway, we want to emphasize that there is no greater value to the state of Wisconsin - to its taxpayers, its students, its businesses and its communities - than the UW System. It is Wisconsin's economic engine.

A new study from NorthStar Analytics found that each year the UW System has a $24 billion impact on the Wisconsin economy, almost 8 percent of the total economy of the state.

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Moreover, 167,000 jobs are generated or supported by the system each year, the study found.

For every dollar state taxpayers invest in the UW System, the system provides a whopping $23 return on investment. Let that sink in.

The UW System is not just a value; it's a bargain.

For students, UW System institutions provide a quality education at an affordable price. Since fall 2012, tuition has remained flat and the cost of our 13 four-year institutions is below the average of our peer institutions. About two-thirds of all students received some financial aid in 2016-17, including $500 million in grants that do not have to be repaid. Total financial aid awarded that year topped $1.3 billion.

Each year the System confers more than 36,000 degrees. More than 80 percent of those graduates remain in Wisconsin five years after they graduate. These college graduates earn more than their counterparts who only complete high school, have lower unemployment, pay more in taxes, are more active in their communities as citizens and volunteers, and are healthier.

Significantly, college graduates on average cost taxpayers less money for health care, public safety and other taxpayer-funded services.

In addition, more than $1 billion in sponsored research flows into system institutions each year. That research helps save and improve lives, spur new businesses and make our communities better places to live.

We know some people are questioning the value of a higher education. But the data is indisputable: an investment in the UW System is an investment in Wisconsin.

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Dean Van Galen is chancellor of UW-River Falls and John Behling is regent president of the UW System.

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