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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

UW System will send college acceptance letters to students before they even apply

Graduates of Milwaukee's Riverside University High School in 2022.
Emily Files
Graduates of Milwaukee's Riverside University High School in 2022.

Next summer, incoming high school seniors at some Wisconsin schools will get college acceptance letters before they even apply.

The UW System is launching a direct admissions program, which admits high school seniors based on a student's GPA and course completion.

"They won’t actually be applying for admission," says UW System Associate Vice President for Enrollment and Student Success Julie Amon. "They’ll just be told, 'Based on your high school grades, based on your high school courses, we want you at a UW university.'" 

Other states and higher education institutions have utilized direct admissions as a recruitment strategy, including Minnesota.

"One of the goals that we have is really trying to help more Wisconsin residents realize that they are college material — that there is a place for them at a UW university," Amon says.

Taylor Odle, a UW-Madison assistant professor who studies college access, says direct admissions does increase college enrollment.

"This makes sense. Reducing a barrier to college allows more folks to enroll in college," Odle says. "Our research also shows that reducing this barrier to college can be important in reducing equity gaps, especially for first-generation students and students of color."

If direct admissions increases enrollment, it would benefit the financially struggling UW System. Enrollment declines have contributed to structural budget deficits at most UW schools.

Schools including UW-Oshkosh and UW-Parkside are making staffing cuts to save money. System President Jay Rothman is closing three two-year branch campuses due to low enrollment.

The UW System’s 12 branch campuses offer two-year associate degrees, and transfer pathways to four-year schools. But their future has been in jeopardy due to steep enrollment declines.

The UW System has given high schools a deadline of Dec. 8 to opt in to the first phase of the direct admissions program. In the first phase, the UW System is working with high schools that use two common student information systems: Infinite Campus and Skyward.

"Those student information system vendors have been working with us to really kind of automate this process and make it easy for those high schools to deliver those direct admission letters," Amon says.

Amon says so far, 178 high schools representing 129 school districts have opted in.

A spokesperson for Wisconsin's largest school district, Milwaukee Public Schools, says it plans to participate.

A few UW schools have declined to be part of the direct admissions program. They are UW-Madison, UW-La Crosse and UW-Eau Claire.

The first direct admission letters will be sent to rising high school seniors in summer 2024. Those students would begin college in fall 2025.

WUWM is a service of UW-Milwaukee.


Emily is WUWM's education reporter and a news editor.
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