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UW-Madison Celebrates Record-Breaking Freshman Class

Nearly 8.5K New, First-Year Students Enrolled During Fall Semester

girls stand in front of a sign at Camp Randall in badgers gear and sunglasses
Olivia Smrz, left, and Teresa Hartman, right, laugh while taking photos near Camp Randall Stadium before the Badgers’ first football game of the season Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Madison. Angela Major/WPR

A record number of freshman students enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this fall. Other state colleges touted increases in freshman enrollment, though most campuses saw overall enrollment declines this semester.

Nearly 8,500 new freshman enrolled at the state’s largest public university earlier this month. That’s up 12 percent and nearly 1,000 freshman from the previous record set in fall 2019.

During a press conference Tuesday, UW-Madison Provost Karl Scholz told reporters he attributes the surge of freshman to the university’s reputation and standing along with pent up demand for college among graduating high school students who spent much of the past year taking classes online.

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“We also have more students from the state of Wisconsin in this first year class than we’ve had in the last 20 years,” said Scholz. “And so we’re very excited about this incoming class.”

A UW-Madison press release announced 3,859, or nearly 46 percent of this year’s freshman class are Wisconsin residents.

Scholz said because of the unique circumstances this fall, he wouldn’t be surprised to see new freshman taper off somewhat next fall.

“Next year, if you’re a betting person, I would bet that our incoming class might be a bit smaller than this year’s incoming class,” said Scholz. “But that’s something that we’ll work on.”

The UW-Madison release also said this year’s freshman class included more National Merit Scholarship winners than last fall. Nearly 800 first-year students received four years of free tuition and fees through the campus’ Bucky’s Tuition Promise, and 1,250 received federal financial assistance.

UW-Madison said this year’s freshman class “is the most racially and ethnically diverse in the university’s history” with 1,251 underrepresented students of color and 2,133 students in “the broader category of all students of color.”

UW-Madison enrollment data show that 53,829 freshman applications were submitted for the fall semester, 32,466 students were admitted and 8,465 enrolled. That works out to what universities call a “yield rate” of just more than 26 percent. That’s the smallest yield rate reported by UW-Madison since at least 1989.

“UW-Madison proved to be a very popular, hot school and so our yields went down a bit,” said Scholz. “We’re not down quite as much as we anticipated during the admissions cycle.”

Overall enrollment at UW-Madison increased by nearly 5 percent over last fall. According to UW System enrollment estimates, the state’s flagship university is expected to see the largest overall enrollment gains among public universities.

UW-La Crosse also reported a record 2,207 freshman enrollments this fall, which is slightly larger than last year’s first-year class. Overall enrollments, though, were down by around 1.5 percent.

UW System estimates show only UW-Green Bay and UW-Superior are expecting overall enrollment gains this year along with UW-Madison.

Editors note: This story has been corrected to state 46 percent of UW-Madison’s freshman class are Wisconsin residents.