56 SCHOOLS in WISCONSIN
America’s Dairyland (as its license plates famously call it), Wisconsin is known for its populism, its community spirit, and its strong ties to the land. Wisconsin was first settled by French trappers and traders, who hunted animals for their skins in the deep, largely untouched forests; in fact, the name “Wisconsin” is an English version of a French version of an Algonquian word. The British took the area from France in the French and Indian War, but soon gave it up again to the newly formed United States after the American Revolution. Mining brought some settlers, who called themselves “badgers” (because they lived in holes in the ground), but the Badger State would really begin attracting settlers to its land after the Erie Canal made it easier to access the state by water instead of across land. That brought Irish, German, Scandinavian, and other immigrants: tough, fearless Catholics and Lutherans who established Wisconsin’s can-do culture, rooted religious faith, and love of cheese.
That’s not a joke. Wisconsin turned out to be an ideal region for dairy farming, and today the state produces nearly a quarter of all cheese sold in America, thanks to those immigrants who brought their cheese-making skills with them. Cheese, milk, and butter – not to mention corn, potatoes, cranberries, and nearly all of the ginseng grown in the US – are staples of Wisconsin’s economy. Beer brewing and manufacturing have traditionally been at the center of Wisconsin life as well, especially in Milwaukee, the state’s largest city; at one point, Miller, Schlitz, and Pabst were all located in Brew City. Today, of course, manufacturing and agriculture are down all over the nation, and Wisconsin, like other farm and factory states, has turned to new opportunities, including healthcare, technology, and tourism, aided by an excellent higher education system.
Wisconsin’s public colleges and universities have been driven for over a century by the “Wisconsin Idea,” a commitment to provide higher education opportunity to every citizen who wanted it. It’s another progressive heritage of Wisconsin’s immigrant settlers – a faith in community and education to make a better life for everyone. The University of Wisconsin system, from its flagship in Madison to its many state universities, is one of the finest public higher education systems in the nation, and while college education has suffered some setbacks in recent years, Wisconsin remains a leader. The state’s many religious institutions, including Catholic and Lutheran liberal arts colleges like Wisconsin Lutheran College and Mount Mary University, also work to provide the best traditional education for Wisconsin’s future leaders, usually at an accessible price.