Over the past two and a half years, the foundation of higher education has been put to the test. From COVID-19 in 2020 to the impacts of inflation, applying to college and access to higher education have experienced a downfall.
In light of these complications and challenges, the University of Wisconsin System is considering implementing direct admissions for in-state high school students. In administering direct admissions, the goal would be to increase access to a higher college education and student enrollment, according to WPR.
According to UW System data, the percentage of high school students enrolling at the state's 13 universities has fallen since 2013. Further, there has been a 5% decrease in the number of high school graduates who applied to UW schools immediately after graduation — decreasing from 32% to 27%.
UW-Madison assistant education professor Taylor Odle researched the topic of direct admissions with University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Professor of Higher Education Jennifer Delaney in January 2022. Odle explained the large impact automatic admissions holds from the perspective of the student.
“Rather than asking high school students to research colleges, complete long applications, manage sending transcripts and test scores, paying various fees, etc., direct admissions policies, instead, proactively admit students to college based on data already available to them, such as high school GPA and ACT/SAT scores,” he told the Daily Cardinal.
Odle explained students and parents will receive a letter in the fall of their senior year letting them know which colleges they have been automatically admitted to with information on how to enroll and apply for financial aid, as well as other valid information.
Odle commented on the more in-depth analysis of automatic admissions and what qualifies students for direct admission.
“Under direct admissions policies, most students are automatically admitted to all open-access institutions (e.g., community colleges, regional comprehensive universities), and students who surpass certain academic thresholds (e.g., GPA above 3.7) could be admitted to more selective universities or state flagships,” he said.
Odle further stated direct admissions has the potential to create a shift in applicants and admitted students by sidestepping the traditional admissions process and presenting a proactive notification process of open slots. The traditional admissions process entails stress and multiple costly elements without any guarantees.
By eliminating this overwhelming process for the students and parents, the direct admissions policy allows for a more encouraging and easily accessible way to a higher education.
“Direct admissions can not only make the college application process simpler and easier for students, but it can also be used to reduce existing inequalities in college access — by removing barriers that disproportionately impact students by race, income and place,” Odle said.
One favorable aspect of the direct admissions decision is based on how direct admissions simplify the application process by leveraging existing student data, according to the Board of Regents Education Committee.
Another main component and goal of direct admissions to eliminate the prominent disparities seen in many college student bodies, Odle said. The current college search and application process — and its many complex steps — produces inequality, where students of color and those who are first-generation college students, low-income or from rural areas are greatly disadvantaged.
“Automatic admissions is meant to simplify this process by eliminating the need to apply to college altogether, particularly for higher-achieving students who would easily be admitted anyway,” said Odle.
Universities can also benefit from direct admissions.
According to Odle’s research, direct admissions policies raise state and institutional enrollment levels, and they do so by increasing the number of in-state students who enroll in college.
Direct admissions have been put in place in several states, including Idaho, Hawaii and Minnesota. These opt-in pilot programs have been established both at individual universities and at systemwide levels, according to the Boards of Regents Education Committee.
At UW schools specifically, the direct admissions process has not yet been established.
Odle attended a UW System Board of Regent meeting in August 2022 to learn more about the policy of direct admissions, and he told the Cardinal there were no official details about UW’s potential direct admissions system.
However, the direct admissions process is heavily encouraged and UW Systems, Odle and other researchers hope for this process to be implemented based on the multiple benefits that can result from automatic admissions for in-state high school students.
Universities examine the direct admissions process so intricately because they consider it a simplified way to increase the level of college enrollments and reduce inequalities in the college process, Odle explained. He is hopeful about the future of the enrollment process, specifically in UW schools.
“This could be helpful to UW at large or specific UW campuses by helping increase enrollment levels and diversify the population of students who enroll at a UW campus,” he said.