- The University of Wisconsin System is discussing potentially admitting some high school graduates to its campuses automatically as a way to give underrepresented students more access and stem recent enrollment declines.
- This arrangement is known as direct admissions, in which colleges proactively offer a seat to high school seniors who have strong enough academic records without them having to apply.
- The Wisconsin system has just begun considering direct admissions. The next step will be to form a committee that will recommend to officials whether to implement such a program.
Direct admissions programs have taken off in a few states, notably in Idaho, which about seven years ago became the first one to test out such a policy in public institutions.
Early results from the initiative proved promising, as it boosted first-time undergraduate enrollment by a little more than 8% and in-state student enrollment by nearly 12% across public colleges in the state, with gains mostly in two-year, open-access institutions.
All of Idaho's public high school graduates are proactively admitted to all of its community college and open-access institutions. Nearly 120,000 students have been proactively admitted since fall 2015.
The Common Application — the online portal enabling students to apply en masse to more than 1,000 participating colleges — also piloted direct admissions at three historically Black institutions early last year. It added three more colleges that were not HBCUs to the program in January.
The Common App found students were more likely to apply to a college if it admitted them automatically. The Common App expects to continue adding colleges to the program. Some institutions with admission rates below 50% have also expressed interest in participating in the next version of the experiment, it said.
Wisconsin system regents last week heard details about direct admissions in other states from two professors of higher education who have researched these strategies.
Jennifer Delaney, who teaches at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, said it can be empowering for students when colleges proactively offer direct admissions. The policy is generally low cost for institutions, Delaney said.
It also helps attract historically disadvantaged students, Delaney said, noting many institutions tend to get rid of application fees during direct admission, removing a hurdle that can prevent low-income students from applying to college.
Enrollment management officials said during last week’s meeting that to offer students automatic admission, they would need to consider factors like their GPA, whether that metric was weighted in any way, and a list of high school courses they took.
A barrier is that the state of Wisconsin does not have a centralized database containing all of that information, and so it would require extensive work to figure out how to collect it.
Johannes Britz, the system’s interim senior vice president for academic and student affairs, called for creating a group to make a recommendation regarding a potential direct admissions program.