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Thursday, December 09, 2021
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Freshman play volleyball outside Witte Hall.

UW’s largest freshman class shows upwards trend in diversity

It comes as no surprise to anybody who calls a University of Wisconsin-Madison residence hall home this semester that the university has enrolled a record number of freshmen. Triples, quads and unconventional housing situations abound, accommodating the surplus of students.

Among the 8,465 first-year students at UW this year, 55% come from Wisconsin or Minnesota according to a university news release. The university’s efforts to enroll local students seem to be paying off: Despite a plateau in the number of high school students in the upper Midwest, UW’s in-state enrollment numbers are on the rise.

First-year student Claire Wilcox of St. Paul, Minn. is one of the students benefiting from the university’s reciprocity program. When asked if they would have attended without the program, Wilcox said, “No way. I would not have been able to afford it … I might not have even considered it. But here I am, and I’m glad about it.”

In addition to the UW’s notable in-state numbers, are record-setting levels of racial and ethnic diversity. Approximately 25.2% of the Class of 2025 are students of color — more than ever before.

Students, like Wilcox — who is first-generation Chinese-American — believe this development is “not representative of the country as a whole.” Despite this, Wilcox described their experience making other friends of color on campus as positive, stating that they “know that there are people there if I need them.”

Outside of the country, UW-Madison remains a popular choice for prospective undergraduate students. 

Just under one in ten freshmen are international students, with the most significant cohorts coming from China and India. Among them is Neha Thalpur of Chennai, India, who decided to attend the UW due to its strong chemistry program.

“I was worried about not being able to fit in, but so far, it’s not been that hard,” Thalpur said. 

Although moving halfway across the globe has provided its challenges, she described the experience as an “eye-opener.” Thalpur found the university to be supportive in her transition to college life in the United States, but she did note that UW may have over-enrolled.

This summer, university officials described their efforts to accommodate the class in residence halls, emphasizing the class’ eagerness to be on-campus. 

Notably absent from the demographic numbers provided by the university are those of Indigenous students. Dan Cornelius, of the law school’s Great Lakes Indigenous Law Center, explained that the university may be hesitant to put these numbers forward because “the retention numbers have not been good over the years” — particularly from reservations.

Cornelius, an enrolled member of the Oneida Nation, stated that many tribal families are hesitant to send their youth to UW-Madison. Among possible explanations for this phenomenon, he named a simple lack of community for Indigenous students on campus.

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Cornelius posited ways for UW to rectify this. His suggestions included offering courses at the university that connect to the Indigenous experience and providing food at the dining halls that come from Great Lakes tribes. 

He cited Wunk Sheek, an Indigenous student organization, as an example of community here at the university, but he urged students and UW as a whole to ponder: 

“How can we create more [of an Indigenous space here]?”

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