Wisconsin Shifts Commitment

The state will now consider transfers and Minnesota residents in Madison's annual in-state enrollment commitment.

December 9, 2019
Bryce Richter / UW Madison

The University of Wisconsin at Madison will shift the way it reports Wisconsin resident enrollment by incorporating students who transfer to the university and Minnesota residents into its commitment to the state, which will allow the university to continue to increase its share of out-of-state students.

The Wisconsin system’s Board of Regents unanimously approved a proposal on Friday that allows Madison to report new in-state students each year based on a 5,200 student, three-year rolling average, which will soften the current “hard line” requirement of 3,600 in-state freshmen each year. The average will account for transfers, new students who enroll outside the fall cycle and students from Minnesota, who receive in-state tuition as part of a reciprocity agreement between the two states.

The system’s flagship campus has met the 3,600 yearly benchmark for first-year Wisconsinites enrolled each fall since 2015, which was set by the regents to measure how Madison is serving Wisconsin residents. The four-year agreement expired in 2019, and Madison chancellor Rebecca Blank proposed the agreement to an average, which does not have an end date. Madison is expected to start reporting the average in 2023, university spokesperson John Lucas wrote in an email.

More than 49 percent of the fall 2019 freshmen class are nonresidents, and 50.3 percent are Wisconsin residents, the lowest percentage of in-state students Madison has enrolled in at least 25 years, the Wisconsin State Journal reported in September. (Prior to the 2015 policy, the university's out-of-state enrollment was capped by the state at 27.5 percent.)

Wisconsin is among the states that must balance commitment to the state against shrinking demographics and a desire for out-of-state students.

Following the three-year, 5,200 average will not dramatically change the number of new Wisconsin residents enrolled each year; Madison will still be expected to enroll the same number of freshmen from Wisconsin each fall. But according to enrollment data provided in Blank's proposal, adding off-cycle new students and Minnesota residents helps Madison surpass the resident requirement, and the university could decrease the number of in-state freshmen by nearly 100 students while meeting the 5,200 average.

The added metric will be a more comprehensive way to look at Madison’s dedication to the state, regents president Drew Petersen said.

“As we look at this, it’s a continued commitment to that 3,600 number, which has been exceeded quite nicely,” Petersen said. “But … we wanted to provide a more holistic view of the service that we have provided to the state.”

Madison must strike a difficult balance between enrolling an adequate number of Wisconsin high school graduates, high-performing out-of-state students and students from Minnesota, who pay in-state tuition because of an agreement between the two states. Bringing in more nonresident students is a net positive for the state -- their tuition revenue can help subsidize scholarships for in-state students who need financial aid, Blank said during remarks to the regents.

“Nonresident applications have more than doubled in the past 10 years,” Blank said. “We want to take advantage of that.”

Madison’s commitments to Wisconsin “could not have been stronger” in fall 2019, Blank said. The share of Wisconsin high school students who enrolled at Madison increased from 4.9 percent in 2009 to 5.8 percent in 2019, according to the university. High schools in Midwestern states such as Wisconsin are experiencing a reduction in numbers of students, which creates another challenge for first-year enrollment measurements, Blank said in an interview.

The university enrolled 7,550 new students, and 50.3 percent were from Wisconsin, which was a 3.1 percent drop from the fall 2018 enrollment, according to the State Journal. Blank and Petersen responded to the reporting in a column, stating 68 percent of Wisconsin residents who applied for fall 2019 were accepted to Madison.

“In-state demographic trends matter and play a pivotal role in our admissions process,” Blank and Petersen wrote.

Minnesota high schools are experiencing an opposite trend -- the number of graduates will increase until the mid-2020s, said Robert McMaster, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education for the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. The university tries to maintain 65 percent of students from Minnesota in its new student enrollment each year, which does not include reciprocity students from Wisconsin, McMaster said.

“If we went into the high 50s, we would not be serving the state of Minnesota well,” McMaster said. “When you add in the Wisconsin students, then you really bump up the percent paying the resident rate to near 80 percent. I think that’s what Wisconsin is struggling with as well. In many ways, they’re treated like residents for tuition purposes.”

Traditionally, Twin Cities has received more Wisconsin students than Madison has received Minnesota students, but the two states balanced out a few years ago, McMaster said.

“We have seen that decline in Wisconsin [students] in large part because Wisconsin is trying to keep its own students,” McMaster said. “This is a long-standing relationship we have with the state of Wisconsin. I’ve always valued the relationship. There are going to be students in the Twin Cities that I would love to have on our campus, but they want to get away from home. They want to experience an institution that isn’t in their hometown.”

Madison also speaks of out-of-state students who graduate and remain in Wisconsin to contribute to economic growth, and Blank said 21 percent of nonresident graduates live and work in the state one year after receiving their degrees. Torger Philosophos, a 2014 graduate of Madison’s business school and a spring 2019 master of business administration candidate, turned down a job offer working for Deutsche Bank in New York City and is now the chief financial officer of a Madison-based online ordering service for restaurants called Patronpath.

Patronpath is owned by EatStreet -- another company in the city founded by Madison alumni that employs more than 3,000 delivery drivers in the area who receive salaries and health benefits, Philosophos said. He is from Oak Park, Ill., near Chicago, and said it would be “close-minded” for Madison to deny out-of-state students in order to meet Wisconsin’s expectations. It would damage the university’s reputation as a "world-class" institution, he said.

“Wisconsin is the No. 1 school for CEOs of Fortune 500 companies,” Philosophos said. “Those high-level positions also turn into high-level donors for the university. They absolutely contribute back to the state through those donations -- they’re definitely helping to further the Wisconsin way.”


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