UW-Madison’s commitment to the state in admissions

UW-Madison was created to provide a public university for the state’s high school graduates who wanted to pursue further studies. That remains one of our highest priorities.

An enrollment policy approved today by the Board of Regents reaffirms our commitment to in-state students.

Before I get into the details on this policy, here’s some background. Prior to December 2015, Regent policy required that no more than 27.5 percent of the undergraduate student body be out-of-state students. (Under the Minnesota-Wisconsin reciprocity agreement, Minnesota Compact students were treated as in-state students for admission purposes and thus were not included in the 27.5 percent.)

In December 2015, the Board established a new enrollment policy lifting the cap for UW-Madison and instead required that the campus enroll a minimum of 3,600 Wisconsin students in its fall freshman class each year. This recognized the demographic shifts in the state that were reducing the number of high school graduates over time as well as the rapid growth in out-of-state applicants to UW-Madison.

A 3,600 minimum was a strong standard, higher than the average number of Wisconsin high school graduates we enrolled over the previous 10 years.

Note, however, that this new policy was quite different along several dimensions. It focused only on new freshmen students, ignoring our substantial number of new enrollees who transfer into UW-Madison, most of them Wisconsin students. It also ignored students who started in the spring rather than the fall. And it dismissed our Minnesota Compact students, even though they are treated as in-state for admission and tuition purposes.

The newly approved policy revises slightly the enrollment policy for UW-Madison moving forward. It reads:

UW-Madison must enroll a minimum of 5,200 new in-state undergraduate students each calendar year, based on a three-year rolling average…In-state students are defined as Wisconsin residents and Minnesota reciprocity students…The Board of Regents expects UW-Madison to continue to honor its commitment to enroll 3,600 Wisconsin freshmen within this broader policy but recognizes UW-Madison’s commitment to in-state students is best measured by more than just incoming freshmen and should include reciprocity and transfer students alike.

Since the policy change in December 2015, our admission of Wisconsin freshman has stayed strong. We have enrolled between 3,617 (Fall 2015) and 3,797 (fall 2019) Wisconsin freshmen in each fall of the past five years. As a result, the share of Wisconsin high school graduates coming to UW-Madison the fall after they graduate has increased steadily. In 2010, it was 4.9 percent of all Wisconsin high school graduates; in 2019, we are at an estimated 5.8 percent.

There are other clear indicators that our commitment to Wisconsin is stronger than it has ever been:

  • We are admitting about two-thirds of all Wisconsin applicants in recent years. This is well above the percent of out-of-state applicants who are admitted.
  • We launched the Wisconsin PRIME program, a high-touch recruiting program aimed at high test-score Wisconsin students. In fall 2015, we had 883 Wisconsin students with an ACT score of 31 or higher (the top 10 percent of ACT test-takers). By fall 2019, we had increased this number by almost 30 percent to 1142 Wisconsin students
  • We have created both Bucky’s Tuition Promise (which assures that all Wisconsin students from families below $60,000 in annual income will have their tuition and fees covered for four years at UW-Madison) and Badger Promise (which assures that all Wisconsin transfer students from first-generation families will have two years of tuition and fees covered at UW-Madison.) These programs substantially expanded our support for lower-income Wisconsin students.

At the same time that we maintain a strong commitment to Wisconsin students at UW-Madison, the policy change first adopted in 2015 and reaffirmed by the Regents today allows us to take advantage of our very deep and growing pool of high-quality out-of-state applicants. Our out-of-state applications have doubled over the past 10 years at the same time as the quality of the average applicant has risen. Since fall 2015, we have increased our out-of-state enrollments by an average of 250 per year.

An increase in out-of-state student enrollment helps us fund high-quality programs for all students at UW-Madison, as well as scholarship aid for Wisconsin students.

As importantly, it brings high-ability young people into the state of Wisconsin. We brought about 3,500 non-Wisconsin students into UW-Madison in fall 2019. These are great students who will spend at least four years in the state. We work with local and regional businesses to provide recruitment opportunities for internships and full-time employment after graduation. At present, 21 percent of our out-of-state students are in Wisconsin one year after graduation. As Wisconsin faces major shortages of skilled workers, it’s important that UW-Madison be able to continue to bring young talent into the state.

The policy adopted today by the Regents reaffirms and makes permanent our current enrollment practices. It also encourages us to continue our strong commitment to in-state students and acknowledges that that commitment should count all incoming students – new freshmen, transfer students and Minnesota reciprocity students, regardless of whether they start on campus in the fall semester or spring semester. The 5200 number in the policy is consistent with where we have been over the past four years, counting all incoming Wisconsin and Minnesota students.

The policy also recognizes the importance of the Minnesota reciprocity agreement. Because Wisconsin students can attend Minnesota schools at in-state rates, more of them leave the state and go to Minnesota for college than would happen otherwise. Similarly, more Minnesota students come here because of the in-state tuition they pay. The reciprocity agreement notes that Minnesota residents should be considered in-state for the purposes of admission, and indeed the enrollment policy in place for other UW System schools uses this broader definition for in-state students.

I want to thank the Board of Regents for approving this enrollment policy for UW-Madison. It allows us to continue to serve a growing share of Wisconsin students, ensures that our classes contain students from across the United States and around the world, and will help us continue to expand our role as an economic engine and talent driver for the state workforce.