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Enrollment proposal to address workforce needs

October 2, 2015 By Greg Bump

At a time when the number of Wisconsin’s high school graduates has declined, a proposal geared toward growing the number of top students ready to enter the state’s workforce is being forwarded to the UW System Board of Regents.

By accelerating its recruitment of top Wisconsin high school students, continuing to guarantee the enrollment of at least 3,500 Wisconsin high school graduates and waiving the nonresident enrollment cap for the next four academic years, the University of Wisconsin–Madison hopes to help meet the talent needs of state businesses. The number of Wisconsin residents enrolled has exceeded 3,500 the last four years, and has averaged more than 3,600 over the last 20 years.

The request will be presented at the October meeting of the Board of Regents Oct. 8 and 9. Under the proposal, UW–Madison will submit a report to the board in December 2019 that describes admission and enrollment activity and other relevant outcomes as a result of the changes being considered; an interim report will come in December 2017.

The state is in the midst of a demographic shift, with fewer high school graduates each year since a peak of 71,017 in 2009. The number is projected to reach a low of 64,136 in 2015 and is expected to remain flat over the next five years, according to projections from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. At the same time, the number of older workers and retirees has grown.

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank supports the proposed changes.

“With the change in the state’s demographics, we know that many businesses are challenged to find the workers they need,” Blank says. “The changes being proposed will allow us to actively recruit top students from around Wisconsin and beyond so that those students are more likely to seek employment in our state when they graduate.”

According to official figures released this week by the university’s Office of the Registrar, the 2015-16 freshman class at UW–Madison continues a trend of large numbers of Wisconsin high school students pursuing a degree at the state’s flagship campus. The number of enrolled freshman Wisconsin resident students has exceeded 3,500 in each of the last four years, even amid a smaller pool of high school seniors.

Wisconsin high school graduates were admitted at a higher rate than their out-of-state counterparts. More than two out of every three (67.1 percent) Wisconsin residents who applied to UW–Madison were admitted. Of those, nearly 63.8 percent enrolled for the fall semester. The admittance rate for nonresident applicants was 42.8 percent.

“Educating Wisconsin students has long been the mission of UW–Madison, and we remain committed to providing top Wisconsin high school graduates with the opportunity to pursue a world-class higher education in their home state,” says Steve Hahn, vice provost for enrollment management. “We have stepped up our efforts to identify and reach out to these students prior to their senior year so they know that their state’s flagship university wants them.”

Many top performing Wisconsin high school graduates look at out-of-state alternatives — something that Blank and Hahn hope to change.

UW-Madison’s admissions office has stepped up its efforts to reach out to these students, including identifying and contacting the students before their senior year, and creating a new campuswide “Experience Wisconsin” event in October for around 1,000 invited recruits, which brings top prospective students to special events across campus.

In the midst of declining numbers of young adults from Wisconsin, it will be increasingly important for UW System schools to form partnerships with Wisconsin companies to recruit college students to stay in the state. UW–Madison is strongly committed to working on this initiative, Blank says.

“The University of Wisconsin System is the talent pipeline for state businesses. The proposal creates a steady stream of highly educated, skilled employees,” Blank says, adding that among Wisconsin residents at UW–Madison, 72 percent stay in the state following graduation. Among nonresident students, 15 percent stay in Wisconsin in the first year after they graduate.

UW System President Ray Cross says attracting top students from out of state means that more have the potential to stay in the Wisconsin workforce after graduation.

“Many of the entrepreneurial students who come to Wisconsin’s universities are from places outside Wisconsin,” Cross says. “We need to continue to create a fertile environment for them to stay and pursue their career path in the Badger State.”

Overall applications at UW–Madison have nearly doubled in the past decade, while the number of Wisconsin resident applicants fell from a high of 9,074 in 2007 to a low of 7,564 in 2013. Wisconsin resident applications rebounded to 8,434 in 2015 due to increased recruiting efforts. Overall, the university received more than 33,000 applications for fall 2015.

“We have been successful in recruiting the best students from out of state. Our proposal continues to attract the best nonresident students in a way that does not reduce access to Wisconsin students,” Blank says. “It is a competitive advantage to the state to have more top national and international students come here to attend college.”

A waiver of the nonresident enrollment limit would also allow UW–Madison to increase its revenues from nonresident students and help maintain access to services and classes for resident, as well as nonresident, students. Recent budget reductions were distributed at UW–Madison across educational and administrative units, resulting in some reduced services to students and more limited class offerings.

Total enrollment for fall 2015 at UW–Madison is 43,405, up slightly from 43,189 in 2014. Undergraduate enrollment is also up slightly in 2015, increasing from 29,304 last year to 29,583. This fall, UW–Madison welcomed 6,270 new freshmen, with 3,617 coming from Wisconsin.

New students came to UW–Madison from each of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. UW¬-Madison students who enrolled this year hail from 123 countries and all 50 states.

Read more about this year’s freshman class