UWM retains its top research status amid financial strains

Lubar Hall on Maryland Avenue.
Lubar Hall on Maryland Avenue. Jake Hill Photography

Last updated on December 20th, 2021 at 12:56 pm

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has retained its designation as an “R1” research institution, a status that its ongoing financial challenges have threatened.

The university announced Thursday it was awarded the designation, which is given to institutions with the highest research activity, from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education for a third consecutive time.

UWM and UW-Madison are the only two universities in the state to hold that status, and they are among 137 institutions nationally. UWM was first bumped up a tier, from an “R2” doctoral university to an R1, in 2015, and it retained that higher status in 2018.

The list released Thursday by CCIHE is preliminary, and the final list will be announced in January. The Carnegie lists, first published in 1973, are issued about every three years.

Carnegie ranks institutions into three categories based on the number of doctoral degrees awarded and the amount of research expenditures during the previous academic year.

In fiscal year 2021, UWM had $44.7 million in research expenditures, with more than half of that – $26.2 million – coming from federal agencies.

“I am elated that UW-Milwaukee has retained its Research 1 status and remains one of the top research universities in the nation,” said UWM chancellor Mark Mone. “Attaining R1 under any conditions is a monumental feat and is affirmation of the remarkable impact of UWM’s exceptional faculty, staff, doctoral students and researchers who were integral to this ultimate recognition.”

Retaining that status was not a sure thing. With lagging enrollment and state financial support, UWM has navigated a difficult financial outlook in recent years. An analysis from the Wisconsin Policy Forum released earlier this year said mounting financial pressures put its top-tier designation at risk. A BizTimes Milwaukee cover story in September explored UWM’s challenges, as well as the university’s efforts to maintain its dual mission of producing robust research and providing broad higher education access to the region’s under-served students.

Being an R1 institution aids the university in attracting and retaining top research talent among faculty, researchers and graduate students, the university said.

“This reaffirmation of UWM’s R1 status is a tremendous tribute to the outstanding work of our faculty, research staff and student researchers, particularly at the doctoral level,” said provost Johannes Britz. “UWM’s research and doctoral programs have a profound impact on the region, positioning Milwaukee as an innovation hub.”

R&D spending at UWM has fallen over the past decade, from $61.2 million to $53.8 million from 2011 to 2019, according to the WPF report. The peak was in 2010, when the university had 834 faculty numbers. Today it has about 720.

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