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.