MADISON – For one third of the Wisconsin high school Class of 1999, the next step after graduating was enrolling at a campus of the University of Wisconsin System.

This 33% access rate is among the highest in the nation, according to a report to be presented at the next UW System Board of Regents meeting, scheduled for October 5-6 at UW-La Crosse. It also matched the UW System’s highest access rate ever (1998), and compares favorably with a 25% access rate in the fall of 1976
The report, entitled “Access to the UW System for Wisconsin High School Graduates,” was prepared by the UW System’s Office of Policy Analysis and Research. It analyzes trends in access rates and the degree to which access differs by gender and race/ethnicity.

Last year, about 45 of every 100 Wisconsin high school graduates applied for admission to a UW System campus. Of that number, 42 were admitted at one or more campuses and 33 actually enrolled. The last number — 33% of the Class of 1999 — is the access rate.

“We’re committed to maintaining a high level of access to Wisconsin high school graduates,” said UW System President Katharine Lyall. “This report underscores the fact that our enrollment management plans have been on target. I’m pleased that 94% of the students who wanted to attend a UW System campus in 1999 were able to enroll.”

The UW System access rate has been at 30% or higher since 1984. It has remained at that level despite a 12.5% increase in the number of high school graduates since 1995. Enrollment of new freshmen increased by 17% during that period, resulting in a higher access rate overall.

Despite the high level of access, Lyall noted that “the study does raise some questions and concerns” about differences in access based on gender and race/ethnicity.

“Many colleges and universities nationwide, both public and private, have noticed a growing disparity in the number of male and female students,” said Lyall. “Far fewer male high school students are applying to the UW System than female.”

While 48% of all Wisconsin women high school graduates applied to a UW System campus in 1999, only 37% of their male counterparts did so. As a result, the access rate for women was 36%, while the access rate for men was just 28%.

According to Frank Goldberg, associate vice president for policy analysis and research, male students seem to drop out of the path toward college at an early stage. “The decision whether to pursue a college education appears to be made by a significant number of male students long before they graduate from high school,” said Goldberg.

For example, 74% of female high school graduates in the Class of 1999 took the ACT admissions examination, compared with only 59% of the male students.

“Among students who took the ACT exam,” said Lyall, “the percentages of those who were admitted and those who actually enrolled are roughly equal, regardless of gender. Our challenge is to encourage all students to gear up for college as early as the middle school years, so that they take the classes — and the ACT or SAT test — they need in order to apply and be admitted later on.”

Lyall also noted a disparity in the access rate between white students and students of color. In both categories, 66 out of 100 students took the ACT exam. Among students of color, however, only 33 of the 66 applied for admission to the UW System, compared with 43 of 66 white students. The acceptance rates for those who applied were roughly equal, but only 73% of admitted students of color enrolled, compared with 80% of admitted white students. The result was a 22% access rate for students of color and a 33% access rate for white students.

“Over the past five years,” said Goldberg, “the enrollment of UW System students of color as new freshmen grew by an average of 8.1% a year, slightly greater than the annual increase in the number of public high school graduates of color.”

“I’m pleased by the progress we are making in the number of new freshman students of color,” said Lyall. “We are continuing to address the disparity in application and enrollment rates as part of our Plan 2008 initiative. The pre-college focus of Plan 2008 — at the System and campus levels — strongly encourages all young people to think about and prepare for college as an option, not an impossibility. Financial aid can help ensure that qualified students are able to enroll and complete their programs.”

The report indicates that a large number of Wisconsin high school graduates pursue some form of higher education. In 1996, the most recent year for which data are available from all institutions, 58.2% of Wisconsin’s high school graduates enrolled somewhere as new freshmen. This included 31.9% in the UW System, 9.5% in the Wisconsin Technical College System, 6.2% in a private college in Wisconsin, and 10.5% at out-of-state institutions.


Kevin Boatright, UW System
(608) 263-2227