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UW-Madison sees record freshman enrollment
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UW-Madison sees record freshman enrollment

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Freshman enrollment at UW-Madison is up nearly 16% this year compared with last fall, according to numbers released Tuesday.

A record 8,465 freshman began studying at the university this fall, compared with 7,306 last fall.

“This is a larger-than-expected class. We’re absolutely thrilled with the class but we overshot a little bit,” UW-Madison Provost Karl Scholz said Tuesday.

The university’s admissions rate increased to 60.3%, compared with 57.2% the previous year, the highest it has been since 2005, and UW-Madison spokesperson Meredith McGlone called this year’s freshman class the largest in the university’s history. 

UW-Madison had a record number of 53,829 applications, a 17% increase over the previous year. High application and enrollment numbers have been common among Big Ten schools, Scholz said. 

John Karl Scholz


Scholz joked that "the primary extracurricular activity for high school seniors in the last year seems to be maybe sending out college applications … because clubs and sports and musical performances and other things were curtailed” due to the pandemic.

Scholz said he expects freshman enrollment numbers to drop slightly next fall and the admissions team will work in the coming weeks to determine a target enrollment number for the 2022 freshman class.

The university's yield rate, or the percentage of admitted applicants who enrolled, decreased from 27.8% in 2020 to 26.1% in 2021. UW-Madison is also in its second year of accepting SAT or ACT optional applications.

The university welcomed more freshmen from Wisconsin this year than it has in the past 20 years with 3,859 in-state students, or 45.6%, of the freshman class from 71 of the state's 72 counties. Wisconsin students and Minnesota reciprocity students together make up 55% of new freshmen this year.

Focus on diversity

UW-Madison's 2021 freshman class is also the most racially and ethnically diverse in the university's history with 2,133 students of color, up from 1,692 last year. Students of color make up 25.2% of the freshman class, compared with 23.2% last year.

The 2021 freshman class includes 7% more African American students, 22% more Asian students, 34% more Hispanic students, and 34% more non-Hispanic students who identify with two or more races, compared with last fall.

International students represent 45 countries and make up just under 10% of the new freshman class. 

Hundreds of this year’s freshmen will also be able to attend the university tuition-free through Bucky’s Tuition Promise. The program, launched by UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank and now in its fourth year, provides four years of free tuition to in-state freshmen whose household adjusted gross income is $60,000 or less.

The total number of undergraduates from Wisconsin now receiving free tuition through Bucky’s Tuition Promise and other similar initiatives to support in-state students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds is at a record high of 3,448.

High enrollment numbers will have a positive effect on the university's budget, Scholz said, and the money will be earmarked to “support the student experience and the values of the university.”

“To accommodate this class, we’ve invested in more advisers, we’ve opened up course sections so students can make rapid progress toward their degree, we’ll invest in mental health resources, we’ll do the things necessary to continue to provide a world-class education,” he said.

UW-Madison's total enrollment for fall 2021 is 47,936, compared with 45,540 last year.

The enrollment numbers come from the university’s official census, taken each semester on the 10th day of classes.

Registration down across system

The UW System reported a 1% decrease in registration overall according to preliminary data released last week.

The UW System released an initial fall 2021 registration estimate of 163,708 students across 13 campuses, an estimated 0.64% decrease compared with 164,766 in fall 2020 based on first-day figures. 

UW System President Tommy Thompson noted freshman and new transfer registrations have increased by 1,316, or 4%, according to the estimates, but dropped by 3,305 among other undergraduates, or 4%. UW System spokesperson Mark Pitsch was unable to provide a breakdown of registered students by grade level.

UW System usually releases final fall enrollment figures later in the semester but offered initial registration estimates based on first-day figures last week because of interest in the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the numbers, Pitsch said in a statement.

“The last 18 months have been incredibly challenging, not only for our UW schools, but also at colleges of all types throughout the nation,” Thompson said. “With plentiful jobs and COVID-19 creating challenges, retaining students has been especially difficult for all of higher education.”

Registration increased at three universities and fell at 10, according to preliminary estimates, with numbers up at UW-Madison, UW-Green Bay and UW-Superior.


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