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UW-Whitewater’s name growing beyond borders

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Kevin Hoffman
July 25, 2011
— UW-Madison casts a big, red shadow across southern Wisconsin, but the success of UW-Whitewater athletics is helping the school step into the light and attract an increasing number of out-of-state students, school officials said.

More students from outside Wisconsin are finding their way to the small, rural community, and campus officials give some of the credit to the school’s athletic successes.


“There’s no doubt about it,” said Paul Plinske, athletics director at UW-Whitewater. “What (students) are finding is we have outstanding academic programs, we have a large campus in the state system, and because of our Division III athletes and the success we’re having, we’re drawing in those students.”


Chancellor Richard Telfer said out-of-state applications for freshmen nearly doubled over the last four to five years. As of June, the university had enrolled 740 freshmen from other states for the fall semester. Last year at that time, there were about 620.


“They don’t all come, but you get a sense of how many people are interested,” Telfer said. “I don’t know that I would attribute that all to athletics, but athletics is certainly a piece of that.”


Plinske noticed the same trend in the athletics department. He said about 30 percent of student athletes are from outside Wisconsin. A considerable number come from Illinois, but many hail from Michigan, Indiana and Minnesota.


Part of the reason could be name recognition. UW-Whitewater has earned national titles in baseball, football, volleyball and wheelchair basketball over the last six years. That doesn’t include more than a dozen individual national champions in track and gymnastics.


Head football coach Lance Leipold was recognized at the best Division III coach in the nation last year, and the program this fall will open the season ranked No. 1.


That success earned them the occasional spot on ESPN and other programs while building the university’s brand. Plinske noted the boost in apparel sales, especially after a program wins a title.


“Getting institutional support from the chancellor, our different colleges, being integrated in day-to-day campus activities ... that to me is the single biggest trait right there,” Plinske said.


“The T-shirts Badger fans are wearing when at games, now we’re seeing Warhawk apparel all over the place.”


Outside the university, athletics has had a significant affect on the community and region. A report conducted by the Fiscal and Economic Research Center at UW-Whitewater found the school’s athletics bring about $2.7 million to communities in Rock, Walworth and Jefferson counties.


Much of that money is spent at local restaurants, hotels, gas stations and grocery stores, according to the report. Every dollar spent by way of the athletics department generates about $1.45 worth of growth, it added.


Russell Kashian, the research center’s director, said the report shows a hunger for entertainment, and the success of UW-Whitewater’s programs has added to that.


Officials say the lure of UW-Whitewater is more than just sports.


UW-Whitewater has invested millions in growing its campus over the last few years. The $41.5 million Hyland Hall was finished in 2009 and houses the business and economics colleges.


That college last year was named among Princeton Review’s “Best Business Schools.” It was the fifth consecutive year the university earned that honor.


“It’s a phenomenal facility,” Plinske said of the business school. “I know we have a significant portion of our student athletes in that business program.”


Students from outside Wisconsin help generate extra revenue for the university because they typically pay higher tuition.


UW-Whitewater last fall had record enrollment and 4,100 students living on campus—400 more than its preferred capacity. Telfer said managing the growing numbers has been a challenge.


“We’re making some efforts to try and limit the class sizes so we don’t have super huge classes,” he said. “That’s one of the things we pride ourselves on is where professors can get to know students. Of course that’s always a battle.”



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