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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


New law mandates UW System to admit top Wisconsin high school students

Evers says law will help address statewide workforce shortage, retain talent
Soren Goldsmith

The University of Wisconsin–Madison is now required to admit all Wisconsin high school students who finish in the top 5% of their class. Other UW campuses must admit students who finish in the top 10%. Gov. Tony Evers signed the Republican-authored bill into law Tuesday.

“Our state faces immense workforce challenges, and bolstering our workforce to make sure it can meet the needs of the 21st Century means working to keep our state’s homegrown talent right here in Wisconsin,” Gov. Evers said in a Tuesday press release.

Evers said the UW System is a critical partner and resource for building Wisconsin’s next-generation workforce by “helping train and retain the talented students we already have here in Wisconsin.”


Nearly 90% of in-state UW System graduates stay in Wisconsin five years after graduation already, according to the UW System website. Assistant professor of educational policy studies at UW–Madison Taylor Odle said this bill is specifically targeted at the state’s flagship university, UW–Madison.

All UW schools admit 70-80% of applicants, while UW–Madison admits 43%. Still, UW–Madison already admits about 95% of the students who would be guaranteed admission through the top 5%, according to Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin in a faculty committee last summer.

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Odle said legislators want to appease constituents whose children were not admitted to UW–Madison.

“At the end of the day, this is just a political battle,” Odle said. “It’s hard to find out that they were not selected to come to the state flagship, one of the top public institutions in the country.”

According to the university’s official testimony on the bill from Jan. 17, 2024, UW–Madison employs a holistic admissions process that takes into consideration several criteria — academic excellence reflected through coursework and grades, leadership, concern for others and the community, achievement in the arts and athletics and potential for contribution to the UW–Madison community.

Rep. Jerry O’Connor (R-Fond du Lac), a cosponsor of the bill, released a statement Tuesday following the signing, criticizing the admissions process as an “undisclosed UW System formula that can leave Wisconsin’s best and brightest out of our schools.”

“A number of our students, families, High School Principals, and School Administrators have shared disappointing reports of how a number of our top-performing High School graduates – those who would rank at the top of their classes – could not gain admission to one of our UW System schools,” O’Connor said in the statement.

According to the bill, school boards, charter school operators, and governing bodies of private and tribal high schools must prepare class rankings at the end of 11th grade in classes of at least 15 students.

Wisconsin students who are homeschooled or attend a virtual private school must score in the top 2% nationally on the ACT exam to be guaranteed admission to UW–Madison. National Merit Scholarship Program finalists are also guaranteed a seat at any UW campus.

Under the bill, students who did not finish in the top 10% of their class can still apply to UW–Madison. But, it pressures the enrollment management office to balance guaranteed admission state students, other state students, international students and out-of-state students, according to Odle.

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Odle said it is unclear what success would look like under this law. He compared Wisconsin’s guaranteed admissions plan to a Texas law that has shown no meaningful change in enrollment. Instead, high-achieving students from well-resourced high schools in Texas enrolled in flagship universities at higher rates than those from other high schools.

Odle pointed to a Top 9% plan in California as a more successful example of a guaranteed admissions plan. The plan differs from Texas and Wisconsin because it ranks all California students using the same metric — the Statewide Index. The top 9% California high school graduates are then offered a guaranteed space at a UC campus, if space is available.

 The direct admissions law is part of a deal struck December 2023 between the state Legislature and the UW System. The deal curtails diversity positions at UW campuses in exchange for funding for staff pay raises and on-campus construction projects. Other bills created through the deal are moving through the Legislature.

According to the university’s testimony, the UW–Madison Office of Admissions & Recruitment prioritizes its relationships with high schools in and beyond Wisconsin.

“The goal is to account for the wide variety of educational opportunities across the state and the desire to capture wide representation from talented and impressive graduates from all 72 Wisconsin counties,” the statement said. 

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