“Demographic trends” and restructuring the UW System

Recent population projections show an increase of high school graduates in the state — not a decline — undermining the UW System’s justification for substantial restructuring.

If you’ve been following the latest Wisconsin political saga, you’d know that the University of Wisconsin System is again under attack — but mostly from within. Recent declines of enrollment at UW College’s two-year campuses — a combination of the post-recession recovery and recent decreases in high school gradates — has provided UW System with a crisis. And, of course, a good leader never lets a crisis go to waste.

In response, President Cross launched his plan to dramatically restructure the UW System in October, 2017 (link to press release). While their have been multiple concerns raised about this plan, I want to address “demographic trends” in Wisconsin, a key justification for the restructuring and one picked up by related media coverage. Cathy Sandeen, Chancellor for UW Colleges, was quoted as saying:

“The dramatic demographic declines in this state are undeniable and we have been working hard to ensure the future viability and sustainability of our small campuses.”

The press release additionally provides this table:


That Wisconsin’s population is getting older is no surprise to demographers and, of course, is a trend in most industrialized counties. But what was implied in these numbers and the way Cross spoke about them was that there were fewer high school graduate available to UW System schools — enrollments would inevitably decline.

The media, of course, took the bait and furthered the misconception. Here’s the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Enrollment falls at several UW System campuses this fall as state’s demographics shift,  and in the Wisconsin State Journal, Cross is quoted as “Our goal here is to leverage our resources to avoid closures, focus them in areas and respond effectively to these demographics.”

Of course, the logic doesn’t follow. Just because there’s a decline in the proportion of college-aged population doesn’t mean there’s a decline in the absolute number. And, of course, it’s that number that’s relevant to colleges and college enrollment.

Conveniently, UW-Madison’s Applied Population Lab recently completed (in Dec. 2017) an analysis for UW System (website). No surprise, this report hasn’t received much attention. Here’s the key figure:


The number of high school graduate is projected to reverse recent declines and increase by 3.4% by 2025. The key justification for the restructuring is a short-term problem, not one that warrants the radical response.

While this report did come out after the restructuring plan was released, it’s clear that UW System was interested enough in the numbers to commission the report. Perhaps we haven’t heard about it since it undermined Cross’s key justification for the restructuring.



Site moved back ;)

Okay, heading back to plain WordPress.com site. Not enough time to keep up the maintenance on a full WordPress installation. Time to let someone else handle that work. Plus, the political season is back upon us (did it ever leave?), and it’s time for some new maps.

Visualizing recall signatures for Scott Fitzgerald

Lori, my wife, asked if there was any way to visualize the signatures she’s been collecting for the Senator Scott Fitzgerald’s recall. She was interested in both inspiring volunteers and in analyzing the distribution of signers. After finding a post about QGIS‘s Time Manager, this was relatively easy to pull off:

Short version of procedure

  1. Collect addresses in spreadsheet (LibreOffice).
  2. Modify date of signature to conform with Time Manager’s format and add random offset (so all signatures on the same day don’t appear at exactly the same time).
  3. Geocode using GPSVisualizer’s batch geocoder (built on Yahoo’s geocoder).
  4. Import delimited text (*.csv) file into QGIS. Export layer as shapefile.
  5. Create three versions as suggested by underdark and set Time Manager settings.
  6. Export sequence to series of images.
  7. Use AviSynth and VirtualDub to create video.

Scott Fitzgerald’s campaign contributions – received more from out-of-state than his own district

(Full disclosure — my wife is currently leading the recall campaign against Senator Fitzgerald; see Recall Fitz)

Several weeks ago I heard Mike McCabe from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign (WDC) talk about the growing power of money in our state politics and, in his words, its equivalence to modern-day bribery. My attention had mostly been on the role of Citizens United in our national politics and not the details of state politics. I also discovered, in subsequent searching, that there’s a treasure trove of data the WDC’s campaign finance database. Here’s an initial look at my state senator’s, Scott Fitzgerald, individual contributions for the last election cycle (starting from Nov 5, 2009):

Click to view interactive map
(Click here for the full interactive map — WordPress.com isn’t friendly to embedded interactive maps.)

What is really interesting is how little of his money came from his own district. Approximately 86% of his contributions were from outside the 13th — only 14% came from within his own district. He received more money (15% of the total) from outside the state. Look over those out-of-state donors, I ran across the name “W. Preston Baldwin” who shows up as the chair on ALEC’s Private Enterprise Board.

Who, then, is he accountable to?

Note: only free and publicly available data and software (QGIS and LibreOffice) was used to generate this map on my personal computer.

Power, parking, and the first amendment

First Amendment rights apparently don’t apply for parking. That’s what the Johnson Creek police chief told me before hanging up. My wife, Lori Compas, and I were attending a protest at Diamond Precision Products in Johnson Creek, Wisconsin, today where Governor Walker was coming with a TV crew from CNN. I called to ask about the extensive “No Parking” signs that lined the streets around the company’s site and was told that they were put in place to protect public safety. When I asked for clarification on how the public’s safety was being improved, the police chief told me the conversation was finished and abruptly hung up.

Here’s a quick map of the area closed to parking (lines in blue) and the Diamond Precision Products facility (red plus sign):

Given that parking legally required nearly a quarter-mile walk along a couple of busy county roads and both elderly and parents with small children were attending the protest, improving public safety was obviously not the prime reason for the parking restrictions.

Even if protecting Governor Walker was a prime concern (removing parking from any potential sight lines?), these restrictions were excessive. Many of the closed streets were well beyond any location where the Diamond facility was visible.

The obvious conclusion: the police restricted access to hinder protesters.

Just felt I had to document the fact.

Recount as measure of voting irregularities

Update: the recount results are now complete and certified (available here). Waukesha had a total of 87 votes that were changed for Prosser and Kloppenburg resulting in a 0.07% error in the original count (not including the 14,000 vote election night snafu).

As the governor is poised to sign the controversial voter ID bill in Wisconsin, what seems to be lacking on both sides of the discussion is evidence of voting irregularities or fraud. An article from yesterday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel cites 20 prosecutions of voter fraud from the November 2008 election (none of which involved voting in someone else’s name), but citizens have been presented with little additional evidence of voter fraud.

Of far greater concern for voter confidence is the state’s ability to count votes correctly. Here, we do have evidence from the recount currently underway from the Supreme Court election in April. Certified results from every county except for Waukesha are available here from the Government Accountability Board. Adding up the total number of changed votes for each candidate reveals 1,271 votes that were missed or incorrectly counted in the original vote. Here’s what the distribution of changed votes looks like across the state:

Total changed votes in recount

Obviously, the totals are larger in more highly populated counties. Below is another map showing the percentage of the total votes cast — highlighting counties within the state with the highest proportion of discrepancies. The highest percentage was 0.76% change in Waupaca County — almost every one out of a 100 votes was counted incorrectly.

Percentage of votes changed in recount

If we’re looking to instill greater confidence in the electoral process, shouldn’t we start (as Senator Lena Taylor noted) by getting the count correct? Surely in our age of technology we could do substantially better.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.