Equity and Access in the UW System: A Review of Student Applications

WCER Working Paper No. 2020-10

Daniel Corral, Na Lor, Noah Hirschl and Eric Grodsky


December 2020, 22 pp.

ABSTRACT: The mission of the University of Wisconsin System is to provide Wisconsin’s high school graduates with opportunities to cultivate “intellectual, cultural, and humane sensitivities, scientific, professional and technological expertise, and a sense of purpose.” Further, as part of its 2020 strategic plan to meet state workforce needs, the System seeks to increase the number of Wisconsinites who both start college and persist to earn their degree. To reach these goals, high school graduates must first apply for admission to the UW System’s two- or four-year institutions. This report analyzes application patterns among Wisconsin high school students who earned their high school diploma in 2016. We find that, among students with similar high school grades and ACT scores, Black students are more likely to apply to a UW System school (and to UW–Madison in particular) than otherwise similar non-Hispanic White students. Economically disadvantaged students and students from rural school districts, on the other hand, are less likely to apply to a UW System school or to UW–Madison, though differences are relatively modest in magnitude. If Wisconsin wants to increase equity in who applies to our public colleges and universities, we suggest targeting outreach to academically successful students eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch, and those attending rural high schools.

Full Paper

keywords: Postsecondary access, students of color, economically disadvantaged students, urbanicity