The University of Madison?

This guest blog is authored by Noel Radomski, Director of the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education (WISCAPE). The question of who is admitted to our nation’s public colleges and universities is at least as critical as what it costs to attend, and everyone who cares about public education should read on. Below Noel’s post, I provide some additional information about what appear to be serious violations of shared governance by the chancellor at UW-Madison.

University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross and University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank have submitted a resolution, “Waiver of Nonresident Enrollment Limit for UW-Madison,” which will be voted on at the October 8–9, 2015, UW System Board of Regents meeting. If approved, UW-Madison would be exempt from the UW System Board of Regents policy that caps enrollment of out-of-state undergraduate students at 27.5 percent. The resolution would allow UW-Madison to increase the number of nonresident domestic and international undergraduates it enrolls through 2019.

On its face, and according to UW System and UW-Madison press releases supporting the waiver resolution (see here, here, and here), the proposed resolution should be noncontroversial. Who would be opposed to providing UW-Madison greater flexibility to recruit and enroll future freshman classes, and allowing the campus to generate additional tuition revenue?

However, if one scratches below the surface, questions the data provided by UW System and UW-Madison, and compares the proposal with research findings about what happens at public research universities that pursue similar enrollment flexibilities (see here and here), it becomes apparent the proposed waiver is poorly designed policy. The UW System Board of Regents should delay a vote on the proposed resolution until they have an opportunity to weigh the proposal’s advantages, disadvantages, and unintended consequences. Also, the public should have the opportunity to review and provide feedback on the proposal before current policy is changed.

Weighing the Arguments For and Against the Resolution

Below are five arguments the UW System president and UW-Madison chancellor have offered in support of the proposed waiver resolution, followed by facts that contradict these arguments.

Argument 1: The waiver will not lead to a UW-Madison enrollment reduction of Wisconsin residents. The proposal includes a requirement that UW-Madison enroll a minimum of 3,500 Wisconsin residents in each freshman class.

The Facts

• The recommended minimum of 3,500 Wisconsin residents in future freshman classes would be a reduction from the number of Wisconsin residents in the UW-Madison freshman class during the last four years. In 2012, the UW-Madison freshman class included 3,519 Wisconsin residents; in 2013, it included 3,843 Wisconsin residents; in 2014, it included 3,749 Wisconsin residents; and this fall, it included 3,617 Wisconsin residents.

  • At the December 7, 2012, UW System Board of Regents meeting, where they approved the increase from non-resident undergraduates from 25 percent to 27.5 percent, the Regents agreed that: “…it was good to have a cap on nonresident enrollment. It serves to guard against the natural tendency to try and maximize revenue, and it provides a balance to the needs of in-state students.”

Argument 2: Admission of transfer students will continue to be a priority that offers mobility and opportunity to more Wisconsin students.

The Facts

• The proposed waiver does not include a minimum number of transfer students who are Wisconsin residents. What message does this convey to parents, transfer students, and legislators? If a student enrolls in one of the UW Colleges campuses or a Wisconsin technical college to save money and reduce student loans, will the transfer doors to UW-Madison be closed? Uncertainty reigns.

• Past enrollment of transfer students has been inconsistent: In 2011, UW-Madison enrolled 1,014 transfer students from Wisconsin; in 2012, the number was 915; in 2013, it was 806; in 2014, 632; and in 2015, 905.

Argument 3: Wisconsin needs to attract more young people into its workforce, and this can be done by increasing the number of nonresident domestic and international undergraduates at UW-Madison.

The Facts

• Surprisingly, UW-Madison’s and UW System’s facts contradict their own argument: only 15 percent of UW-Madison’s nonresident undergraduates stayed in Wisconsin in the year following graduation in 2014. Increasing nonresident undergraduates will not contribute to Wisconsin’s workforce needs. In fact, it will contribute to the brain drain as more UW-Madison graduates accept jobs in other states and countries.

• On the other hand, if UW-Madison and the UW System Board of Regents were to increase the number of Wisconsin resident undergraduates it enrolls, that could help address Wisconsin’s workforce needs. UW-Madison graduates who are Wisconsin residents are far more likely to stay and work in the state (see here, page 3).

Argument 4: The number of Wisconsin high school graduates is declining, and thus UW-Madison needs to recruit more nonresident domestic and international undergraduates.

The Real Facts

• The UW System and UW-Madison have cited projections from the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE) in making this claim. However, UW-Madison’s own Applied Research Laboratory (APL) has worked with Wisconsin school districts on demographic analysis and school projections for the past fifteen years, and their projections show a slight increase in total high school enrollment at the state level the next two years, followed by a period of increased growth. (View APL’s full report, summary, and poster.)

Argument 5: The proposal to eliminate the maximum number of nonresident undergraduates enrolled at UW-Madison is not being driven by the need to generate additional tuition revenue.

The Facts

• Chancellor Blank’s own words during her “State of the University” address on October 5 contradict this claim. She said: “You all know that the state budget brought deep cuts to our finances — we were handed an $86m deficit, effective July 1…To fill this deficit, we have cut or redirected about $34 million…We have also received permission from the Regents to raise out-of-state and professional school tuition over the next two years, which brings in about another $17 million this year and $15 million next year. Unfortunately, if you’re doing the math, this leaves us with an ongoing deficit. I am also asking the Regents for permission to increase the number of non-resident undergraduates, while making a commitment to admit Wisconsin students at the same rate as we have for many years.”

• Earlier this year the UW System Board of Regents approved a resident undergraduate tuition freeze for two years. However, the regents also approved four years of tuition increases for non-resident domestic and international undergraduates.

• This year, tuition for non-resident domestic undergraduates at UW-Madison is $28,523; next year, it will increase to $31,523; in 2017, it will be $33,523; and in 2018, it will be $35,523.

• This year, tuition for non-resident international undergraduates at UW-Madison is $29,523; next year, it will increase to $32,523; in 2017, it will be $34,523; and in 2018, it will be $36,523.

• This year, tuition for Minnesota undergraduates at UW-Madison is $13,382, compared to $10,416 for Wisconsinites.

• The new non-resident international student tuition rate is the highest of all tuition levels, making it highly likely that UW-Madison will recruit and enroll more international undergraduate students to help reduce the budget deficit.

Lessons to Consider from Research

A forthcoming research article in The Journal of Economics, co-published by University of Michigan Professors Ozan Jaquette and Julie Posselt and University of Missouri Professor Bradley Curs, examines what happens to public research universities when they increase enrollment of non-resident undergraduate students to generate tuition revenue. The following conditions often result:

1. A reduction in the proportion of state residents in the undergraduate population, especially if the public research university has more selective admissions requirements.

2. A reduction in the number of low-income resident and nonresident undergraduates.

3. More class (socioeconomic) isolation on campus leading to campus climate problems.

4. An increase in the number of high-income nonresident domestic and international undergraduates.

5. A reduction in the number of resident undergraduate minority students.

6. More racial isolation on campus leading to campus climate problems.

7. An increase in the number of academically qualified nonresident undergraduates.

8. A shift from need-based institutional grants to merit-based institutional grants to recruit higher-income students from other states and countries.

9. A shift toward university’s private self-interest by increasing in academic prestige and tuition revenue generation.

10. A shift away from public good by enrolling fewer in-state undergraduates, especially lower-income and underrepresented students, thus decreasing social mobility and contributing to the income inequality.

Shooting Blanks in an Empty Barrel

Most universities have an enrollment management plan that outlines future applications, admissions, financial aid, and enrollment goals. The plan includes projected budget allocations for programs and activities to help achieve these goals. Most importantly, the enrollment management plan expresses the university’s values and priorities. For example, does the university want to increase, maintain, or decrease the number of state residents in the freshman class and the entire undergraduate class? Does the campus want to offer more or less institutional need-based grants or institutional merit-based grants to incentivize enrollment of residents, non-residents, or international students? Does the campus want to increase tuition revenue by enrolling students who pay the highest tuition rates?

Unfortunately, UW-Madison does not have an enrollment management plan. However, it does have a Division of Enrollment Management and a vice provost for the division of enrollment management. Why is this significant?

If UW-Madison receives a waiver from the 27.5 percent cap on non-resident undergraduate enrollment, these campus leaders will be granted significant admissions and enrollment flexibilities. Without an enrollment management plan, how will campus leaders decide where to focus their energies? Will they be shooting blanks in an empty barrel? Or will money decide which students are recruited and enrolled? As the regents noted at their December 7, 2012, meeting: “…an increase in opportunity for Wisconsin students to attend the UW-Madison can be accomplished best through an enrollment management plan that increases the size of the incoming freshman class, including an increase in the number of Wisconsin freshmen, and a steady number of Wisconsin resident transfer students…” (see here, page 13).


The proposed UW System Board of Regent’s resolution that would remove the cap on the percentage of UW-Madison nonresident undergraduates could lead to negative, unintended consequences for Wisconsin’s families, communities, and businesses. Research findings suggest that as public research universities experience greater financial challenges, they struggle not only with determining their own institutional values and admissions goals, but also with conflicting expectations from state elected leaders, families with prospective students, high school counselors, business leaders, and many others. These struggles escalate when a public research university needs to find a substitute for steady reductions in state appropriations.

At UW-Madison, non-resident and international undergraduate tuition revenue is increasingly filling the gap left by reductions in state appropriations, as is philanthropy and campus entrepreneurial programs.

If the campus no longer has a cap on non-resident undergraduates, will it focus more on recruitment efforts at affluent non-Wisconsin high schools and less on Wisconsin high schools, particularly those with large numbers of low-income and underrepresented students?

As public research universities pursue and attract more applications from non-resident and international students, they tend to offer admission to students with higher standardized test scores and deny or waitlist more applicants. They are also more likely to increase budget allocations to merit-based institutional grants at the expense of need-based grants, increase campus amenities, and increase athletic department expenses to attract affluent out-of-state students.

If approved, the proposed UW System Board of Regent’s resolution could lead to dramatic changes to UW-Madison’s admissions, recruitment, and budget decisions. It could compromise opportunity for many Wisconsin students to be seriously considered for admission to the state’s land-grant institution.

This proposal, which could have a profound impact on UW-Madison’s values, has had little-to-no campus discussion. UW-Madison administrators have not vetted the proposal with campus governance groups. UW-Madison administrators have not consulted with the designated campus committee which is charged reviewing admissions and financial aid policies. Other than several media articles this week, the public has not been engaged in this important public policy question, which will affect many Wisconsin families.

The UW System Board of Regents should refer the resolution to a future meeting and give it the thorough review it deserves.


Sara’s Comments:

As a long-time member and former Chair of the Committee for Undergraduate Recruitment, Admissions and Financial Aid (“CURAFA”)and as a member of the Ad Hoc Tuition Policy Faculty Committee, I am very concerned by Chancellor Blank’s actions. I’m especially concerned with the Chancellor’s misstatements of facts about what our reports — submitted properly via the shared governance system — said. Specifically, Chancellor Blank stated at the Faculty Senate meeting of October 5, 2015:

“There was an Ad Hoc Tuition Policy Faculty Committee that I think reported out the spring before I came and there was a lot of discussion of that then the first fall that I was here. I, actually knowing this concern has been raised, have a copy of the committee report in front of me. And I should note it lists 3 options on page one; it clearly does not choose among those options. There are different options, and in fact there a little bit are some inconsistences among them. I think the committee did not come up with a single recommendation. Option 2, let me read it to you: “Hold the number of resident students constant but increase the number of non-resident students. It suggests increasing by 1000, which honestly is more than we could probably have capacity for. But it is one of the options listed under the recommendations under that report. So I actually don’t think this is inconsistent with that committee report.”

This statement include several mistakes. In the past three years, two separate faculty committees provided relevant reports on the topics of admissions policy, tuition and affordability. The first report was submitted in April, 2013, prior to Blank’s arrival on campus, but it was authored by CURAFA, not the Ad Hoc Tuition Policy Faculty Committee. The second report was authored by the Ad Hoc Committee, but it was submitted in February 2014, well after her arrival on campus.

The February 2014 Ad Hoc Committee report discussed the benefits and disadvantages of four policy alternatives (not three), and there were three options within each of the first two of those alternatives. While it is true that the Ad Hoc Committee did not come up with a consensus best policy, Blank’s statement that “the committee did not come up with a single recommendation” is somewhat misleading. The committee was clear in recommending that broader engagement through shared governance was needed:

The Committee did not agree nor come to consensus on any single best approach or a unified philosophy on tuition policy. Broader engagement within shared governance would be needed to develop such a policy that would garner support and buy-in.

The April 2013 CURAFA report did indeed make a number of specific recommendations which largely run counter to Blank’s Resolution. For example, the committee expressed the specific goal of increasing, not decreasing the Wisconsin resident proportion of the entering class:

No less than 60% of the entering class should be residents of Wisconsin. Between 2002 and 2012, the fraction of new freshmen from Wisconsin declined from 64.3% to 56%. We now enroll a smaller fraction of in-state students than many of our peers, and believe that in order to fulfill our mission to the state of Wisconsin this trend should be reversed.

According to the 2014–2015 Data Digest, in 2014, 59.8% of new freshmen (3,749/6,264) are Wisconsin residents. This proportion would fall further below 60% were there 3,500 Wisconsin resident admissions and the cap on non-resident students eliminated, as the Resolution allows.

Furthermore, the CURAFA report did indeed make a specific policy recommendation: “We support one change in tuition policy, as described in that [Ad Hoc C]ommittee’s forthcoming report, which would affect the diversity of the incoming class and resources available for financial aid. We recommend that UW-Madison seek an exception from the state reciprocity policy, in order to charge students from Minnesota out-of-state tuition.

Importantly, the CURAFA report, like the Ad Hoc Committee Report, also stressed the need for broad support from faculty, staff and students:

In order to be achieved, the goals involved in creating the ideal incoming class need to have support from across the University community and from key stakeholders supporting the institution… The creation and revision of the characteristics and qualities of the ideal incoming class should be established through a shared governance process to ensure that commitment is in place.

That Chancellor Blank chose not to obtain the approval of the Faculty Senate nor to engage staff and student governance bodies despite the specific recommendation by both committees that she do so is a violation of shared governance. The whole tenor of the CURAFA report is that admission and tuition trends have decreased access for Wisconsin students and have decreased economic diversity and that these trends threaten the very mission of UW-Madison. In short, Blank made the executive decision to choose a policy option that was not endorsed by the Ad Hoc Committee — one that moves the University in precisely the opposite direction that CURAFA concluded we must go to fulfill our mission and obligation to the State of Wisconsin.