People lab photo

Middle School students in UW-Madison's PEOPLE college prep program gather around a computer in a laboratory at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery during a 2014 summer program.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s flagship program to prepare underrepresented students to enroll in and succeed in college will accept undocumented students starting next school year.

However, it is not guaranteed that students will receive a scholarship to the university if they are admitted.

Jessica Hankey, strategic partnerships and innovation director for the Madison Metropolitan School District shared the news at Monday’s Madison School Board meeting that the Pre-college Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence, or PEOPLE program, will consider applications from undocumented students starting this fall.

“We are thrilled to share that, late last week, we received notice from (the University of Wisconsin) and the PEOPLE team that they are committed to removing that (citizenship) eligibility requirement moving forward,” Hankey said, to applause from some board members and meeting attendees.

"We feel this is a big win... I think the (UW-Madison) team has been working tirelessly on behalf of ensuring access for all of our kids,” she said.

UW-Madison started PEOPLE in 1999 with a goal to prepare students of color and low-income students from Milwaukee for success at a University of Wisconsin campus, with an emphasis on UW-Madison. The program eventually expanded to Madison, Racine, Waukesha and other communities throughout the state.

PEOPLE supports students by helping them develop the academic and social-emotional skills to be successful in college, no matter where they decide to enroll. PEOPLE offers academic tutoring for students throughout the school year and summer programming on campus.

Students who complete the pre-college program and enroll at UW-Madison are eligible for four-year, full-tuition scholarships.

Although undocumented students will be able to participate in PEOPLE’s pre-collegiate training while they are in high school, it does not necessarily mean they will receive the program’s coveted scholarship if they are admitted.

Meredith McGlone, a spokeswoman for UW-Madison, said that both the district and UW-Madison heard students’ and families’ desire to expand the PEOPLE program to welcome undocumented students.

McGlone said although the university is not able to provide undocumented students with any public scholarship funds, they are committed to raising private dollars for qualified students.

“Because undocumented students aren’t considered Wisconsin residents, they are not eligible, at the college level, for the PEOPLE scholarship aid that comes from state and federal sources,” McGlone said. “We’ve been aware of this issue, and are working with MMSD and other partners to find alternate scholarship sources.”

McGlone said UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank recently approved the hiring of a development director for the division of diversity, equity and educational achievement, in part to raise private scholarship dollars for undocumented students.

“We are absolutely doing what we can on this, but it remains to be seen how much funding we will be able to provide,” she said.

In a statement provided to the Cap Times, Mary Carr, communications director for the division said eliminating the citizenship requirement, “is reflective of UW-Madison’s continued commitment to ensuring college readiness for every student in our community.”

PEOPLE has undergone other significant changes in recent years. In 2016, an external evaluation of the program showed inconsistencies in services offered to students throughout the state. The evaluation also showed that while graduation rates were on the rise for low-income students of color at UW-Madison overall, PEOPLE scholars saw a decrease.

The year after the evaluation, PEOPLE announced it would focus solely on Madison and Milwaukee, and discontinue the program in Verona, Sun Prairie, Middleton, Waukesha, Kenosha and Racine. They also eliminated the PEOPLE Prep program for elementary school students in favor of concentrating efforts on eighth through 12th graders.

The Madison School Board will vote at the end of this month on whether or not to renew its Memorandum of Agreement with the PEOPLE program for the next five years. A renewal means UW-Madison and the district will continue to share financial, communications, staffing and other programmatic supports for the program. Currently, PEOPLE serves about 500 MMSD students. 

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