Socioeconomic Diversity and the University of Wisconsin

May 12, 2013

I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, about an hour away from the flagship UW campus in Madison.  For reasons I’m still untangling many years later, I never applied to Madison as I was deciding to go to college.  As a high school student who could see corn fields from the desk at my bedroom window and whose parents’ involvement in my college selection was limited to their willingness to sign my financial aid forms if I first explained them, I would never have understood that class  played a role in that decision.

And perhaps, then, class was not the whole story.  Students much less academically focused them me did apply (for the football, at least in part ) and were admitted.  But then again, not all made it through.

But this new report on  UW Madison faculty recommending that  the school serve a a more socioeconomically diverse student body from the state resonated deeply with me.

What if?  What if anyone from UW Madison had actively sought out and welcomed kids like me?

Imagine:  Instead of admitting high test-scorers from elsewhere in the implicit assumption that these “better and brighter” students will then take responsibility for the complex social and economic challenges in historically working-class states like Wisconsin, the state would instead commit to admissions criteria that  encouraged the state’s poor and working-class kids themselves to come to Madison to learn about making the state better for all its citizens.

The committee was chaired by the fabulous Sara Goldrick-Rab, who, I believe, is spot-on in her comments in the Inside Higher Ed article:

“When I think of my best students, the ones who are most engaged in class and make the greatest contributions, it is rarely the ones with the highest test scores,” Goldrick-Rab said.

And, she speaks to my memories of the people my homeland, even while many parents there may not have the words to explain to their striving sons and daughters of the opportunities that might await them if  they’d take a shot at admissions at a place like Madison:

Goldrick-Rab said Wisconsin’s population is likely to be receptive to the university’s ideas of fostering a more diverse class. “I think this is a culture that doesn’t like elitists,” she said. “The people of Wisconsin want their state institutions to be as responsive as possible to the people of this state. They realize that the future depends on it.”

Imagine:  Flagship universities combing their states for  smart and ambitious kids to tackle the social and economic complexities of these times, even if their high schools have few AP classes and no one in their hometowns offers expensive SAT prep courses.

I’m glad that  faculty at UW Madison can imagine this very thing.

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4 Responses to “Socioeconomic Diversity and the University of Wisconsin”


  1. As if Sara Goldrickrab even sees the test scores of her undergrads. I think that woul dbe a major violation of Federal laws. What utter politcally motivated BS.
    As you said yourself you knew about UW and probably could have gotten in if you applied just like your friends did. Many years ago UW was hardly that difficult to get into. .Middling grades and a pulse did it for most. Certainly it is tougher now as more recognize the value of an elite education. But a lackof APs is not an issue to UW if the local HS does not have them. Nor do most Wisconsin kids ever set foot in an expensive test prep class and nearly all take the ACT-not the SAT BTW.. Test prep for the SAT is more of a Coastie thing where competition is tougher and the emphasis on getting into the best college much higher.
    Sounds to me like you just regret some poor choices you might have made. Many small town WI kids do come to Madison and do just fine. Others feel more comfortabe at a more nearby smaller UW campus or at the local tech college and that is fine too. Not everyone needs to go to Madison. It really depends on your outlook and goals. But you certainly would have been welcome at UW Madison despite the lack of the engraved invitation..

    • janevangalen Says:

      Frank, thanks for reading, but perhaps you could clarify exactly what your point might be?

      The rising income (and therefore strategic uses of things like test prep) of out-of-state admits is irrelevant?

      I’m thinking that you’ve not taught classes where kids boast about their test scores? Or sat on scholarship/fellowship committees where you have access to student records?

      It sounds as if you must work in admission to know how AP scores are weighed?


  2. BTW, I was a first generation minority college student from a very small town myself. I filled out the FAFSA for my parents as it was too complex for their education and English ability.

  3. saragoldrickrab Says:

    Frank, you’ve revealed your ignorance (again). Of course we can see the test scores of our students. They are readily available to every professor for every student they teach. It’s right in our faculty data access system. A major violation of Federal laws? Absurd.

    To the author: Frank Rojas is an anomaly, and thankfully so. You on the other hand are a credit to Wisconsin. Thanks for writing- I’m glad someone finally pointed this post out to me today.


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