New Report on the University of Wisconsin Highlights Equity Gaps at UW-Madison vs. UW-Milwaukee

Higher Education

August 29, 2019

New Report on the University of Wisconsin Highlights Equity Gaps at UW-Madison vs. UW-Milwaukee
Education Reform Now Proposes a No Cost “WIRE Initiative” to Redress Disparities Between the State’s Two Major Public Research Universities 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new issue brief, released today by Education Reform Now, finds that the University of Wisconsin System (UW-System), which has led the nation in higher education innovation and service, has fallen behind its peers with respect to enrolling and graduating a diverse student population.

The shortcomings are especially stark at the state’s two R1 public research universities. UW-Madison graduates students at a near 90 percent rate, but is one of the least accessible public four-year colleges in the country as measured by Pell Grant student enrollment. Its enrollment of students from families earning less than $60,000 a year ranks below every public college in the Big 10, including many with higher admissions standards, and all but one other public college nationwide (the University of Virginia).

In contrast, UW-Milwaukee successfully recruits a diverse student body–including working class, low-income, and racially diverse students–but generates the lowest graduation rate nationwide of similar institutions serving a similarly academically qualified group of students. Only 16.7 percent of first-time, full-time Black undergraduates at UW-Milwaukee complete a degree within six years of initial enrollment, according to the latest data published by the U.S. Department of Education. That percentage drops to 3.9 percent when measured over the traditional four years it is supposed to take to complete a bachelor’s degree.

The report’s author, James Murphy, said, “Wisconsin deserves universities that look like Wisconsin. After Governor Walker’s attacks on a system that was the envy of the country, it is time to restore the University of Wisconsin to its rightful place as a leader in public higher education. It’s time to show America that the Wisconsin Idea is real.”

In the report, Education Reform Now proposes a new initiative that would push UW-Madison to either enroll its fair share of qualified low-income students or provide financial support to help UW-Milwaukee do a better job educating its diverse student population. The group estimates transferred funds would generate between 1,000 and 3,000 additional UW-Milwaukee graduates per year at no taxpayer cost.

“Higher education is supposed to promote innovation, equity, and excellence for all students,” said Michael Dannenberg, Director of Strategic Initiatives at Education Reform Now. “Instead we are seeing academically talented children of fewer means and underrepresented minorities being funneled to an institution whose low graduation rate threatens to leave many in debt with no degree. It’s time for Wisconsin to redress the realities of their higher education system.”

Read the full brief here.


Contact: Victoria Fosdal,