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New report shows improved graduation rates at UW-Madison

December 2, 2015 By Käri Knutson

Photo: Student raising diploma

Isaiah Williams raises his diploma at the 2015 UW–Madison commencement ceremony. The university is one of 26 institutions highlighted in a new report for achieving the dual goals of increasing graduation rates for all students and increasing the graduation rates of underrepresented minority students.


The University of Wisconsin–Madison has been recognized by The Education Trust as a national leader in improving graduation rates for underrepresented students and overall.

The findings were announced today in a report titled “Rising Tide: Do College Grad Rate Gains Benefit All Students?” The Education Trust, a nonprofit advocacy organization that promotes high academic achievement, looked at the change in six-year graduation rates over the last 10 years among first-time, full-time students at four-year public institutions.

From 2003 to 2013, graduation rates for UW–Madison underrepresented students (defined as African-American, Latino or Native students) reached 68.3 percent, an increase of 12.2 percentage points, according to the trust. Among all UW–Madison undergraduate students, graduation rates reached 82.2 percent, an increase of 6 percentage points.

“These gains can be attributed to leadership, student support via the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates, and the sustained work of a wide variety of staff and faculty on campus that made success for all students a priority,” says Steven M. Cramer, vice provost for teaching and learning. “These gains cannot be attributed to one activity, but rather the sustained and systematic efforts of a large number people across several areas of student support that made student progression and success a priority.”

Ed Trust examined 255 institutions and found the graduation rates for underrepresented minorities increased only slightly more than that for white students from 2003 to 2013 (6.3 versus 5.7 percentage points). UW–Madison is one of 26 institutions highlighted for achieving the dual goals of increasing graduation rates for all students and increasing the graduation rates of underrepresented minority students.

“Staff that helped better coordinate advising and academic support for students at risk were, and continue to be, major contributors to these improvements, but there’s more work to be done,” Cramer says.  

“UW-Madison’s long history of focused effort on student success has seen increased reliance by student affairs and student services personnel on data-driven decision-making,” says Ruby Paredes, interim associate vice provost, Division of Diversity, Equity & Educational Achievement.

“The analysis of student data and success indicators has been particularly important in identifying areas of student need. Very importantly, these analyses validate such best practices programming and high-impact learning experiences as the First-Year Interest Groups and Undergraduate Research Scholars, programs undergirded by our committed faculty and staff determined to ensure for each student an outstanding Wisconsin Experience.”

Earlier this year, UW-Madison announced that its four-year graduation rate is 60.3 percent, up from last year’s previous high of 57.1 percent. The six-year graduation rate is 85.1 percent, up from 84.8 percent — the first time in the university’s 167-year history that the rate has been above 85 percent.

The graduation rates compare favorably to those of other Association of American Universities public institutions, which had average four-year graduation rates of 58.4 percent and six-year rates of 79.2 percent last year (the most recent year for which comparison data are available).