In achievement and prestige, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has long been recognized as one of America's great universities. A public, land-grant institution, UW-Madison offers a complete spectrum of liberal arts studies, professional programs and student activities. Many of its programs are hailed as world leaders in instruction, research and public service.
The university traces its roots to a clause in the Wisconsin Constitution, which decreed that the state should have a prominent public university. In 1848, Nelson Dewey, Wisconsin's first governor, signed the act that formally created the university, and its first class, with 17 students, met in a Madison school building on February 5, 1849.
From those humble beginnings, the university has grown into a large, diverse community, with about 40,000 students enrolled each year. These students represent every state in the nation, as well as countries from around the globe, making for a truly international population.
UW-Madison is the oldest and largest campus in the University of Wisconsin System, a statewide network of 13 comprehensive universities, 13 freshman-sophomore transfer colleges and an extension service. One of two doctorate-granting universities in the system, UW-Madison's specific mission is to provide "a learning environment in which faculty, staff and students can discover, examine critically, preserve and transmit the knowledge, wisdom and values that will help insure the survival of this and future generations and improve the quality of life for all."
The university achieves these ends through innovative programs of research, teaching and public service. Throughout its history, UW-Madison has sought to bring the power of learning into the daily lives of its students through innovations such as residential learning communities and service-learning opportunities. Students also participate freely in research, which has led to life-improving inventions ranging from more fuel-efficient engines to cutting-edge genetic therapies.
The Wisconsin Idea
Students, faculty and staff are motivated by a tradition known as the "Wisconsin Idea," first started by UW President Charles Van Hise in 1904, when he declared that he would "never be content until the beneficent influence of the university [is] available to every home in the state." The Wisconsin Idea permeates the university's work and helps forge close working relationships among university faculty and students, and the state's industries and government.