Wednesday, September 25, 2019

They're packing them in at UW-Madison, especially if they're from out of state.

Saw this headline in recent days, and I can't say I'm surprised.
Wisconsin residents make up a bare majority of freshmen at UW-Madison this year, the smallest percentage of in-state students the university has enrolled in at least 25 years.

The incoming class includes a record-breaking 7,550 students, 50.3% of whom are from Wisconsin.

That’s a 3.1-percentage-point drop from last year’s incoming class and an even steeper decline since the late 1990s and early 2000s, when two out of every three freshmen were Wisconsin residents, according to a Wisconsin State Journal analysis of enrollment reports.
While the State Journal concentrates on the higher proportion of out-of-state students, both of those numbers are telling to me, and they're a direct result of 8 years of anti-UW policies put together by WisGOP in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan.

Since Scott Walker and the GOP came to power in 2011, the UW System has faced several cuts in state funding, while having in-state tuition frozen since 2013 as part of a Walker PR stunt. UW PoliSci professsor Mark Copelovitch notes how these choices along with tax cuts put the squeeze on public universities.

Since UW-Madison can't add money by raising in-state tuition either, what do they do if they want to have enough resources to adequately compete at a top level? Have more people attend the school, and have more out-of-staters who pay higher tuition. And that's precisely what's happening here.

Interestingly, the State Journal adds that Bucky still has an increasing number of in-state freshmen, even in a time when fewer Sconnies are graduating from high school.
But looking at raw numbers, the 3,797 students from Wisconsin represent the second-largest number of resident students in the last decade and the fourth-largest in the last 30 years.

Complicating the admissions puzzle is the state’s declining number of high school graduates. There are 13 University of Wisconsin System campuses across the state, along with dozens of private institutions, all of whom are competing to recruit a shrinking pool of in-state applicants.

It's down, but it's up!

But Madison has the name recognition and outside donors to survive budget cuts. It's a very different story at other, smaller UW schools, such as UW-Stevens Point, who threatened to cut massive amount of majors and programs last year in light of declining enrollment, and the demographic decline in Wisconsin HS graduates isn't going to make that any easier for the future for many UW System schools.

Some schools are getting by as 2019 starts, as the Daily Cardinal tells us that in addition to Madison, La Crosse, Stout and Eau Claire all have reported increases in new freshmen this year. But relying on "packing kids in" to the campuses doesn't seem like a long-term strategy to follow.

The obvious answer is to have the state stop shirking on its share of funding. But WisGOPs were unwilling to do that during budget deliberations, taking out over $100 million in proposed funding that Governor Evers set aside to fund the tuition freeze and to improve student services on campus.

So if that's not an option, perhaps it's time to change strategy where tuition is allowed to rise (at least at Madison, which clearly has high demand), but more financial aid is offered to in-state students to make it easier to attend UW schools or the state's tech colleges. That would at least allow the UW schools to have the resources to adequately compete for talent, and possibly make an easier adjustment to the changing needs of students and technology.

But until that happens, it seems likely that schools like UW-Madison will try to have more Coasties and others who pay above the in-state tuition rate. Although I complete understand why more people would want to attend college in an amazing place like that.

But I also have fears about UW becoming more of a playground for rich kids. And if out-of-state freshmen topple over 50% next year, I don't want to hear a thing from WisGOPs about "elitist Madison", because it was their budget cuts and their constraints on in-state tuition that helped lead to the situation.


  1. When I first read there was a decline in the number of HS graduates I was alarmed. Is that a reflection of the state's aging demographic? We just have fewer students?

    1. The aging is a different demographic problem. This is more that there are fewer kids being born in the state in general, and young families aren't moving in here as much.

  2. You can bet those out-of-state UW-Madison students aren't considering Wisconsin as a place to start a career after graduation. And you can thank Scott Walker and the Republican majorities in the state legislature for this brain drain as well.
    This is doubly baffling, and stupid, since the UW-Sysytem is part of the state economy, a long-term investment in state prosperity, and an economic engine. Research, especially at UW-Madison, leads to health care, manufacturing and similar discoveries and innovations that, once developed, become new products and services, with attendant employment opportunities for educated job seekers.
    An educated workforce is a more skeptical workforce, however, one less inclined to accept ideologies incompatible with tolerance, pluralism, civic responsibility, equal application of the rule of law to all short, with Republican economic and social platforms and talking points.