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Making college more accessible for all Wisconsin students

Several Universities of Wisconsin schools to start direct admissions program for high school students

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November 1, 2023

NORTHEAST WISCONSIN – For first-generation students, students from low-income households and students who may feel like college isn’t in the cards for them, applying is about to become more accessible – taking one of the first steps of getting into college, which can often cause anxiety, off their plate.

The Universities of Wisconsin recently announced that almost all Universities of Wisconsin schools (with the exception of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, -LaCrosse and -Madison) will soon start offering direct admissions.

The direct admissions process means students are able to bypass sending in an application and have their criteria – whether it be grades, classes they took or other means – sent to colleges for review.

Dan Hamrin, director of admissions at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, said if students meet the criteria at a school, they will receive a letter of acceptance in the mail – without having to take the steps to apply.

The Universities of Wisconsin will act as the centralized manager, Hamrin said, while each college sets its own criteria.

“What will end up happening, is all of the universities participating (will) have informed (Universities of Wisconsin) representatives of what our criteria for being able to admit a student who participates would be,” he said. 

The process, Jennifer Jones, assistant vice chancellor for Enrollment Services at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (UWGB), said, will start next year, which means the first round of students to go through direct admissions will start as freshmen in college in fall 2025.

The Universities of Wisconsin is not the first to implement the direct admissions process, Hamrin said, as colleges in other states, such as Idaho and Minnesota, offer direct admissions.

How it will work
First and foremost, for students to participate in direct admissions, Hamrin said their school needs to participate in the program.

However, he said just because a high school participates does not automatically mean the student has to.

“It’s an opt-in from everyone involved,” he said. “So, the student opts into participating in direct admission, and we opt in saying, ‘hey, if students hit this range, we agree we will be admitting them.’”

If students hit the criteria for certain schools, they will receive a letter from the Universities of Wisconsin stating the colleges they were accepted into.

“Then, the students can back in and elect to accept that offer of admission with the schools that they matched with,” Hamrin said. “(They will) fill out an abbreviated application after the fact.”

He said once a student accepts an admission, colleges are then notified and further communications begin.

“(We communicate) with that student as we would with any other students who’ve applied to the university and been admitted,” he said.

Right now, Hamrin said connections between the student systems at high schools and the Universities of Wisconsin are being made for the new admissions process.

High school students will be able to opt-in to direct admissions. The UW System will then send them a letter of the colleges they were accepted into based on their criteria, such as their GPA. Photo Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

Hamrin said UWO’s criteria needed for students to be accepted has “tentatively been set,” but hasn’t yet been finalized. 

“What we know is that the best indicator of whether or not a student is going to be successful in college is how they did in their classes, and making sure that they (are) taking the right courses to be admitted to the university,” he said. “A large part of it, I believe, is going to be surrounding that information because that’s the biggest thing we’re looking at when we’re reviewing a student.?”

At UWGB, Jones said as long as students graduate from high school with the minimum college preparatory units of math, science, social studies and English, they will be accepted. 

“We’re here for everybody who wants to learn,” she said. “There’s not a specific GPA they have to reach. We are open to anybody.”

As colleges and high schools alike gear up for the start of the direct admissions program, representatives from the Green Bay Area Public School District (GBAPS) and the Oshkosh Area School District – both of which share cities with Universities of Wisconsin – said they are currently learning more about how the direct admissions process will affect how high school students prepare for college going forward.

The idea of the direct admissions process, Hamrin said, stems from the Universities of Wisconsin’s desire to have the process to be more accessible to students who may have barriers to getting into college. 

“The (college) application, especially for maybe a first-generation student, who doesn’t have the cultural capital in their family to know how to navigate this process,” he said. “The process of applying is enough to say, ‘you know what, I’m going to skip that and I’m going to go in a different direction.’”

Removing the fear of applying, Hamrin said, makes college look like more of a possibility for a student than it may have seemed to them before.

“(It helps the students to think), ‘I do know I have what it takes because these schools have already told me they would like me in their student body,’” he said. “It allows them to move past (applying) to evaluating, ‘what do I want out of this college experience and this investment.’”

Hamrin said he hopes the removal of an application fee with direct admission also helps take away some of the concerns over students applying.

Before the announcement of direct admissions system-wide, Jones said UWGB had already started working on a direct admit process within GBAPS through the NEW Scholars and Upward Bound programs.

New Scholars, Jones said, is a pre-college program through CollegeReady, a nonprofit that works with Green Bay Preble and Green Bay East high schools. 

Upward Bound is a program offered at UWGB through its TRiO program.

Students who were a part of the programs were offered direct admission, as well as a scholarship.

“We saw that work well for early fall of 2023,” she said. “What we decided to do then, was announce we’re going to do it for all of Green Bay public schools. So, for the fall of 2024, all seniors who are graduating this spring are offered direct admission to UWGB.”

Though Jones said she is excited about expanding the program, “it’s not about getting into UWGB.”

“It’s about knowing you have a place – that’s the whole point of direct admission, to get in front of students who didn’t think college was for them,” she said. “This flips the script and says, ‘it’s not about getting through the gate. The gate is open, and you’re welcome here.’”

Sticking to UWGB’s mission of serving anyone who wants to learn, Jones said any student who opts in to direct admission – with all graduation requirements to receive their high school diploma – will automatically receive acceptance into UWGB.

“There are students who will apply who maybe aren’t as ready as other students,” she said. “But then it’s our job to identify that and help come around them. I call it ‘coordinated care.’ How do we help the whole student to be successful in college?”

Not a replacement
Both Hamrin and Jones made it clear that while direct admissions is a new and more accessible avenue for getting into college, it will not replace the other forms of applying.

“(Direct admission) is in addition to the traditional college admission process,” Hamrin said. “Not every high school in the state has the current student information system to participate.”

Not every student is ready to attend college right out of high school either, Jones said. 

The first round of students to go through direct admissions will start as freshman in college in the fall of 2025. Photo Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

“Some of them need to take time off to work, or (take) gap years or whatever they need to do,” she said. “Maybe they need to go to a technical college first. That’s okay. (We) want them to know that the (Universities of Wisconsin) is here for them and ready for them when they’re ready for us.”

College benefit
The direct admissions process, Hamrin said, will benefit the Universities of Wisconsin as well.

“The nice part is, administratively… we have the information upfront to make an informed decision,” he said. “We can be confident in those decisions we made of, ‘yes, we feel these students who are admitted are going to be successful based on what’s being shared with us.”

This in turn, Hamrin said, allows UWO to put more energy into its students.

“We can focus our time working more with the students and showing them what makes this place special for them,” he said. “And really, that’s where our emphasis and focus can go, rather than having to track down transcripts and all of that sort of stuff.”

Jones said she looks forward to seeing how direct admissions will expand UWGB’s population.

“Our region is growing and diversifying, and we need to reflect (that) in our communities,” she said. “I think more people could take advantage of what Green Bay has to offer… (and) it is going to be a part of making our state stronger.”

Jones said she also hopes direct admissions will help change the narrative of higher education.

“A four-year education is made for everyone,” she said.

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