Daily Bread for 3.29.22: Enrollment and Culture, Whitewater

Good morning.

Tuesday in Whitewater will see afternoon showers with a high of 36.  Sunrise is 6:40 AM and sunset 7:18 PM for 12h 37m 56s of daytime.  The moon is a waning crescent with 8.8% of its visible disk illuminated.

Whitewater’s Community Involvement & Cable TV Commission meets at 6 PM.

On this day in 1974, NASA’s Mariner 10 becomes the first space probe to fly by Mercury.

The decline in college enrollment across Wisconsin involves Whitewater, too, but in ways unique to this town. (The Whitewater Common Council meeting of 3.15.22 saw public comment about commercial assessments that reveals the concerns local landlords have over declining residency enrollment at UW-Whitewater. See video of that meeting, relevant discussion from 5:10 to 31:05.)

UW-Whitewater’s peak residency was likely sometime around 2016.  See Ongoing Enrollment Declines at UW-Whitewater, Elsewhere

In 2016, or even 2006 (before the Great Recession), too many local officials and business people thought that what they saw as the good times would never end. And yet, and yet, despite hardship after hardship (a Great Recession, opioid epidemic, economic stagnation, repeated incidents of sexual harassment, a pandemic, and another recession) they persisted in the same tired boosterism and grandiosity.

Consider how competitive market forces in a dynamic country work: they lead to new ideas, new technologies, and new alternatives. There’s nothing and no one in the city more powerful than the inexorable power of market change. Slowly it has moved, down every street, past every column and lintel, attriting and rebuilding as the consequence of myriad transactions among millions across this continent.

It is has been hubris to think otherwise.

There’s no one reason that residency enrollment (students who live here being those who profit local landlords and merchants) at UW-Whitewater is declining. There are instead several reasons, where the weight of any given reason is hard to ascribe: a demographic decline in traditional college-age applicants, an improving state economy, hesitancy during a pandemic, in-person alternatives at other UW System schools, online offerings at UW-Whitewater and other schools near or far, on-campus housing options, a low-income Whitewater economy that offers limited job prospects for graduates, and (disappointing but candid to mention) the socio-economic challenges of life in a low-income community. 

Local landlords understand their business well, indeed almost too well. They notice every small event and change locally, but they present a limited understanding of how prospective students (or others outside the city) would evaluate among many alternatives. It’s not for lack of intellect, but rather lack of perspective: they struggle to place the city in a broader context.

It’s not enough to see the world from Whitewater — a sound understanding requires also that one see Whitewater from the perspective of the world.

It doesn’t matter how much local men describe Whitewater through press releases and marketing campaigns if people beyond the city discount those claims as unconvincing or outright false. (There have been so many marketing campaigns over the last decade that if only a few of them had worked Whitewater would be Olympus by now. Meanwhile, after years of these few steering policy on boards and commissions,Whitewater’s Still Waiting for That Boom to uplift the whole community.)

People outside the city are sharper and more discerning than our bankers, landlords, and marketing men realize: Wisconsin is a big place, and America is a bigger place, and students and consumers know they they have many choices.

Local landlords know that Whitewater has more students as a percentage of the town than other communities.  They struggle to see, however, than only by leaning into a unique Whitewater difference can the community seize on her comparative advantage.

Whitewater’s comparative difference is a local university.  That difference isn’t a matter simply of rental units — it’s at bottom a cultural difference.

Dozens of communities nearby are red, non-college communities. Those places will always be more red, and more non-college, than Whitewater.  No one needs to move to Whitewater for a red, non-college experience — there are better places elsewhere for that.

These men want to make money, but a college town won’t make as much money if it doesn’t express a college culture.

Few in this city have been more critical over these yearsand justifiably so — of our university’s administration than I have been.  UW-Whitewater’s students and faculty have deserved better.

It’s notable, however, that some of men who depend on our public university for their personal gain show no understanding or respect for the cultural differences that allow a university to flourish. They want their money and their culture and their politics, but in a competitive marketplace they’re finding what they want matters less than what prospective students and tenants want.

People who want a positive college atmosphere have many places to look, and people who want a bright red, non-college town have better places to look.

Fiery multi-vehicle crash in Pennsylvania:


NBC 10 in Philadelphia reports at least three people died in the crash.

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