As the UW Board of Regents president and the chancellor of the state’s flagship university, we both share an important goal: ensuring access for our state’s students at UW-Madison.
In response to the story in Wednesday’s State Journal “Wisconsin students make up smallest share of UW-Madison freshman class in at least 25 years,” we want to challenge the focus of the article and reiterate that our commitment to Wisconsin students and families has never been stronger. Moreover, we believe the coverage should have reflected that this class is actually a winner for the university, the state and its economy.
Applications to UW-Madison from Wisconsin residents continue to grow. Of those who applied this year, 68 percent were admitted, an increase from last year. More new freshmen come from Wisconsin than a decade ago, even though the number of Wisconsin high school graduates has declined during that same period. In-state demographic trends matter and play a pivotal role in our admissions process.
The campus continues to exceed its 2015 pledge to enroll at least 3,600 Wisconsin residents in each incoming freshman class. This year, we enrolled 3,797 — more than half of the incoming class. This is a growing share of all high school graduates in the state. We’ve also fulfilled our pledge to recruit more of the highest-performing Wisconsin students who might otherwise be lured to leave the state for college, with the end goal of having them stay here to contribute to Wisconsin’s workforce.
As the State Journal’s recent story notes, we have experienced modest growth in our out-of-state enrollment. This has happened in part because our applications from non-resident students have more than doubled in the last decade. We both maintain the view this is a good thing for the state: We bring 3,500 highly talented young people from around the country to a state that needs talent, allowing us to work with Wisconsin employers to build a workforce pipeline for the future.
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These non-resident students create additional tuition revenue, but we’ve reinvested these funds to keep UW-Madison a top school and make it as accessible as possible for Wisconsin residents.
For example, it is this additional funding that supports efforts such as Bucky’s Tuition Promise, which guarantees scholarships to cover four years of tuition and fees for any accepted Wisconsin student whose household adjusted gross income is $60,000 or less. More than 25 percent of Wisconsin students in the Class of 2023 are attending tuition-free.
It’s also important to note that UW–Madison supports Wisconsin students by participating in a tuition reciprocity agreement with Minnesota. This year, nearly 60 percent of our incoming freshmen, hailing either from Wisconsin or Minnesota, are paying the in-state tuition rate of their home state. It’s likely that UW-Madison would have more Wisconsin students and fewer Minnesota students if we didn’t have reciprocity with Minnesota, which allows Wisconsin students to attend the University of Minnesota at the Minnesota in-state tuition rate rather than the non-resident rate.
This year's class of freshmen includes 3,797 students from Wisconsin, or 50.3% of the class, a 3.1-percentage-point drop from the 2018 incoming class.
We also note that hundreds of Wisconsin students come to Madison each year as transfer students. The university’s overall percentage of in-state undergraduate students is 56 percent.
Finally, we must consider the University of Wisconsin System as a whole and avoid excessive competition for in-state students that might harm other regional campuses. The UW System is at its best when all the campuses operate in partnership with one another and according to their unique strengths.
Whether the issue is accessibility or affordability, UW–Madison and the UW System remain deeply committed to serving students from our home state, and our statistics prove the point.
Petersen is president of the UW System Board of Regents. Blank is chancellor of UW-Madison.