UW system will launch direct admissions initiative with 2024 senior class

Students will get college admission letters in July 2024 before applying to college

Students walk outside on a sidewalk while wearing coats. The Wisconsin State Capitol can be seen in the background.
Students walk on campus Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Starting next year, high school students could be accepted into University of Wisconsin schools without even applying.

The Universities of Wisconsin is rolling out its direct admissions initiative to boost enrollment across its campuses. UW system administrators hope to reach first-generation college students and other potential students who might not have considered attending a four-year school.

“My sincere desire is this will cause some of those students to realize they do have the capability of doing this, and they will enroll in our universities and ultimately graduate,” said system President Jay Rothman.

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Participating high schools and participating UW campuses will enter student grade point average data and campus admission requirements into two large student information systems used by many public school districts in Wisconsin, Infinite Campus or Skyward Schools. From there, students will receive admission letters to the campuses where they are matched for fall 2025.

Rothman said most UW campuses have similar GPA requirements. He said GPA is being looked at because it is a good predictor of future college performance.

“We can start to have a conversation about what a university journey will look like, financial aid and what that process is, and really take some burden off of high school counselors,” Rothman said.

Taylor Odle, an assistant professor of educational policy studies at UW-Madison, said about a third of students attend community colleges and more than 50 percent of students who go to a four-year college attend a school that is already admitting more than 75 percent of students.

Direct admission removes an unnecessary barrier, Olde said.

“If we only need these couple of pieces of information to make a decision, why don’t we just get the data from where it already lives, rather than asking students to jump through all of these hoops of writing an essay, submitting a resume, getting a high school to submit a transcript,” Olde said.

About 270 high schools across the state are participating in the direct admission program, including Milwaukee Public Schools and Madison Metropolitan School District.

Ten of the UW system’s 13 campuses are taking part. UW-Madison, UW-Eau Claire and UW-LaCrosse are not participating.

“They have their own admissions process, but a student who wants to go to any one of those can go through the normal application process,” Rothman said. “It’s not limiting those students at all. It’s simply expanding opportunities for some of our other students at other universities.”

Direct admissions could slow enrollment decline

UW system enrollment has steadily decreased over the past decade. Headcounts fell from nearly 181,000 students in fall 2012 to roughly 161,000 students in fall 2022, a decline of 11.2 percent.

Enrollment grew for the first time this year, climbing by just over 1 percent to 162,528 students.

Historically, 32 percent of high school grads have enrolled at UW schools immediately after graduation. That fell to about 27 percent in 2020.

The UW system is one of 10 states involved in a direct admission program.

Idaho adopted the nation’s first direct admissions system, proactively admitting all high school graduates to a set of public institutions in 2015. Idaho’s program raised first-time undergraduate enrollments by just over 8 percent and in-state student enrollment by almost 12 percent by the 2017-18 school year, according to an article by Research in Higher Education.

The state of New York created a direct admissions program this year for more than 125,000 graduating high school seniors. In fall 2024, Georgia will roll out a direct admissions program similar to Wisconsin’s.