Officials are ramping up efforts to reach minority and other underrepresented high school graduates and get them to enroll at UW System schools. A recent report from the UW Office of Policy Analysis and Research shows the percentage of Wisconsin high school graduates enrolling in UW System schools right after graduation — known as the participation rate — has begun to decrease after holding steady for decades. While the participation rate had been close to 32 percent since the early 1980s, the report shows it’s begun to recently dip, reaching 28.6 percent in 2019. That’s the lowest it’s been since 1982. “It’s a drop of about 10 percent, which is pretty sharp, that occurred in a two- or three-year period,” said David Ward, a former UW System and campus administrator and president of NorthStar Analytics, which has done a number of economic impact studies for UW schools. But at the same time, new fall freshman applications for UW System schools have seen a 30 percent increase over each of the last two years. Officials note that applications from in-state residents, first-generation students and underrepresented minorities have also risen…
Aside from statistics on participation rates among various populations, the UW OPAR report also includes projections for high school graduates in different regions of the state through 2026. Some regions are expected to fare better than others, due to factors such as the growth of suburban areas and the state’s aging population.
While the Green Bay area and south central Wisconsin are expected to see up to 10 percent more high school graduates by 2026, the southeast region containing Racine and Kenosha is projected to have 10 percent fewer graduates by that time.
The Milwaukee area is set to see modest growth in its high school graduate population, bucking the trend of urban cores around the United States seeing a general decline.
Ward explained that compared to other UW System schools, UW-Green Bay and UW-Oshkosh are “probably in a little better position” because the areas they draw from are seeing the most growth. Plus he said campuses that offer opportunities in technology, engineering, health care and environmental studies are better off due to continued growth in these fields.
“The impact of declining graduates and declining participation rates is likely to be uneven,” he said. “It’s going to hit some campuses harder than others.”