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UW-Green Bay launches direct admissions pilot aimed at boosting higher education access

Starting next summer, graduates from Green Bay Area Public Schools can enroll in university without filling out application

Three students sit next to each other in a class during a lecture.
Students take notes during class Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, at the UW-Green Bay campus in Sheboygan, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Green Bay public school students graduating next summer will have an opportunity to enroll in the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay without filling out applications. The university is the first in the state to pilot what is known as a “direct admissions” program.

Direct admissions isn’t a new idea, but it’s growing in popularity as colleges and universities in states like Minnesota, Hawaii, Idaho and Wisconsin compete for a shrinking pool of students making their way through high school. The goal is to reduce the number of barriers for first-generation college students and boost enrollment among minority students and those from lower income households.

UW-Green Bay Chancellor Michael Alexander told WPR that admissions staff know there are students who don’t pursue college because the admissions application process is intimidating.

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“And this is a way to tell the student, don’t fear the application,” Alexander said.

UW-Green Bay has partnered with the Green Bay Area Public School District on the program. That means discussions about attending the university will start during students’ junior year and those graduating in 2024 summer will be able to transition directly to campus if they choose.

In lieu of an application, students interested in UW-Green Bay will work with campus career counselors to determine what career tracks appeal to them and how the university can help with filling out federal financial aid forms or scholarships.

Alexander said if the direct admissions effort is successful, more first-generation students will attend the university, the school population will have greater diversity and more students will transfer in from technical colleges.

While enrollment at most UW System universities has been steadily declining since 2010, UW-Green Bay has bucked the trend in recent years. Alexander said direct admissions isn’t about boosting enrollment, it’s about improving access to college.

“In the system of higher education, if you have a 3.0 GPA, you’re first-generation in college and you’ve had to work 30 hours a week or more while you’re in high school, not many universities are going to fight for you,” Alexander said. “And what we’re saying is, ‘We are going to fight for you.’”

A feasibility study is underway across the UW System to see if direct admissions may be a good fit for the state’s other regional universities. An initial report to the UW System Board of Regents indicates it could work, though multiple challenges exist. Those include the need to forge agreements with multiple K-12 school districts around Wisconsin, make sharing data with universities seamless for districts and creating new staff positions within the UW System to coordinate those efforts.

The report points to Minnesota as a model that could be followed by Wisconsin’s decentralized network of college campuses. In 2021, Minnesota lawmakers passed legislation to fund a direct admissions pilot program, which has partnered with 40 high school districts and more than 50 of the state’s four-year universities, two-year colleges and private schools.

Editors note: This story has been updated to reflect students who graduate in summer 2024 will be eligible for direct admission to UW-Green Bay.