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UW System Working To Place Recruiters, Counselors In Wisconsin High Schools

'Precollege Pipeline Initiative' Aims To Boost UW Enrollment

Lockers at a high school.
Matt Rourke/AP Photo

In an effort to enroll more students into state colleges, the University of Wisconsin System is launching an initiative to place recruiters in high schools around the state.

In a Wednesday press release, UW System interim President Tommy Thompson said UW-Oshkosh, UW-Parkside, UW-Platteville, UW-Stout and UW-Whitewater would split $1 million to place “student coaches and recruiters” in 25 high schools near participating universities.

Enrollment across the UW System declined by around 2 percent last fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Enrollment drops were higher at UW-Platteville, UW-Stout and UW-Whitewater. UW-Parkside saw enrollment increase by around 1 percent last fall.

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Thompson said the funding for the “precollege pipeline initiative” comes from budget cuts at the UW System Administration office.

In May, WPR obtained a memo to administration employees written by former UW President Ray Cross outlining 40 layoffs. Then, in August, Thompson announced there would be more layoffs within the UW System Administration office, though he didn’t specify how many employees would lose their jobs. As a result of those layoffs and limits on out-of-state travel for administrators, Thompson said the UW System would save as much as $10 million through June 30, 2022.

During an interview with reporters Wednesday, Thompson said the goal of the new initiative is to increase outreach to students of color and potential first-generation college students and guide them through the process of enrolling at UW campuses.

“They’re hiring individuals to go into high schools and really talk to students and talk about taking courses they need to go to college and talk to them about their careers and what courses they need for that degree,” said Thompson.

The pandemic has highlighted the need for such a program. High school seniors are having a difficult time preparing for college during the pandemic, Thompson said, and having a program like this could help students in the future. A timeline for the initiative has not been shared.

Thompson was asked whether UW career coaches and recruiters working at Wisconsin high schools would potentially steer high school students toward the state’s technical colleges.

“If that’s the case, so be it,” said Thompson. “Our job is to get the underserved educated. If a young man or woman wants to go into one of the skilled trades, so be it. And we’ll advise that person what they have to do.”

The UW System anticipates around 15 additional counselors, job coaches and college recruiters will be hired with the funding.

UW-Stout interim Provost Glendali Rodriguez said the university is partnering with UW-Stevens Point to hire career coaches.

“We hope to hire two people, and we’re really looking to find a location — one rural, one urban — and really work with both high schools and community-based organizations in those areas,” said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez said the $200,000 from UW System administration is a one-time funding source and the campuses are working on fundraising ideas to maintain the positions long term.

In a press release, UW-Oshkosh said it will use its share of the $1 million from system administration to fund scholarships for first-generation students.

Thompson said the initiative is part of a series of investments that includes the “Wisconsin Regents Opportunity Scholarship,” which provides up to $10,000 in grants for underrepresented and underserved students attending UW campuses.