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Dive Brief: 

  • Wisconsin high school students in the top 5% of their class would be guaranteed admission to the University of Wisconsin or public technical college of their choice under a new legislative proposal drafted by state lawmakers. 
  • Homeschooled students would receive guaranteed admission if they had an ACT score in the top 5% of students in the state. 
  • The proposal has not yet been introduced, though legislators recently held a press conference to discuss the draft. State Sen. Rachael Cabral-Guevara, one of the expected sponsors, plans to introduce it sometime after the July holiday break, according to her office. 

Dive Insight:

The proposal seeks to address the state’s academically prepared students being denied admission to Wisconsin public colleges “without rhyme or reason,” according to a memo seeking cosponsors for the proposal sent from Cabral-Guevara and state Rep. Jerry O’Connor, both Republicans. 

“These A+, high ACT scoring, students are left wondering if there’s more they could have done to get into a public college in their home state,” the memo states. “Unfortunately, when these students, their parents, teachers, and school district administrators call our office looking for an explanation, there is literally none we can offer.” 

The University of Wisconsin System didn’t immediately respond to questions Thursday about whether officials were consulted about the draft proposal or support it. 

The Wisconsin Technical College System was aware of the proposal, Katy Petterson, director of strategic advancement, said via email. 

“Because our colleges are open access institutions, it has no effect on our System — we are neither for or against it,” Pettersen said. 

Wisconsin lawmakers aren’t the first to consider this approach to college admissions. 

In 1998, Texas began guaranteeing acceptance to its most selective public colleges for state high school students who graduated within the top 10% of their class. The bar for automatic admission at University of Texas at Austin has since been raised to those graduating in the top 6% of a high school class. 

Texas policymakers intended for the process to create a race-neutral way of increasing the share of Black and Latino students attending those universities. Their enrollment percentages fell after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1996 banned race-conscious admissions at public colleges under its jurisdiction, which include those in Texas. 

Admissions experts say other states may try to copy those types of plans in the wake of Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling that found race-conscious admissions practices at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill unconstitutional, The Texas Tribune reported. However, Texas’ plan has done little to address racial disparities in enrollment at the state’s most selective colleges, the publication reported. 

The cosponsorship memo from Wisconsin lawmakers does not mention any goal of increasing diversity. Instead, it stresses that Wisconsin is losing its “best and brightest students to other states” and alleges that public colleges’ admissions formula is “shrouded in mystery.” 

“We don’t have to watch idly by as the future leaders of our state leave and never return,” it says.