New statistics report first-generation students, students whose parents did not earn a college degree, comprise roughly 20 percent of the University of Wisconsin’s freshman class.

Of the freshman class of 5,577 new students, 1,170 of them share this distinction as first-generation college students.

First-generation college students have consistently comprised approximately the same percentage of the freshmen class, a statistic the Office of Admissions has monitored since 2005.

“It adds to the diversity of the freshman class,” said Karen Mittelstadt, assistant director of admissions. “We measure diversity on all levels: geographic diversity, ethnic diversity, and first generation students add another form of diversity.”

Thomas Reason, associate director of admissions, agreed first generation students bring with them different perspectives and different backgrounds to UW classrooms.

“I think it gives another perspective and adds another set of individuals who bring something new to the college experience,” Reason said. “I think there is a real concern not only here, but throughout the country. The reality is a significant portion of this country is not college educated.”

According to Mittelstadt, while the first-generation student distinction often demonstrates a difference in perspective, when it comes to admissions, it never equates to the importance of the student’s academic record.

Reason agreed and added, “It is certainly something that gets considered within the comprehensive review that we conduct.”

“Being a first generation student is never going to make up for a high school academic record that is not competitive for admissions,” Mittelstadt said. “As we talk about it, it’s one more penny on the scale. We recognize that the background of these students is not always the same to those who have a legacy at this university or other universities.”

Mittelstadt added what sets UW’s freshman class apart from its peer institutions is that students have both an impressive combination of academic excellence and outside experiences.

The class of 2012 continued to demonstrate significant out-of-class accomplishments, as 60 percent of freshmen held a part-time job in high school, 66 percent earned a varsity letter in one or more high-school sports, and 56 percent received an award of special recognition for leadership.

Furthermore, freshmen maintained a high caliber of academic excellence. They had a median high school GPA of 3.69, a mean ACT score of 28.1, compared to the national average of 21.1 and a mean SAT score of 1897, compared to the national average of 1511.

Freshman and first generation student Katie Sharko, originally of Laona, Wis., a small town fifty miles east of Rhinelander, said her attendance at UW was important to her family.

“Coming from a town where few graduates go onto a four-year college, it’s a big deal when someone breaks the family tradition,” Sharko said.

Sharko said she feels her distinction as a first-generation student will have a positive effect on both her and her family.

“I’m proud, but I also feel like I am under some pressure because I feel like my family has high expectations for me,” Sharko said. “My whole family looks up to me because I’m the only one who has been given the opportunity to go on.”