In a novel initiative to address a series of challenges on Wisconsin campuses — projections of declining enrollment, recruiting and supporting students of colour and the damage of COVID-19 — five universities are putting counsellors in targeted high schools to help guide students to higher education.
The University of Wisconsin campuses will each put $200,000 toward helping high school students, particularly those who are the first in their families to attend college, navigate what can seem like one hurdle after another. That help could take the form of helping fill out financial aid and scholarship applications, ACT/SAT prep work, career planning and understanding the concept of choosing a major.
UW-Oshkosh, UW-Parkside, UW-Platteville, UW-Stout and UW-Whitewater will evenly split a $1 million investment from the UW System, money freed up through staff layoffs.
The UW System also used $1 million of the central office’s savings to create a new scholarship program, the Wisconsin Regents Opportunity Scholarship, which will provide up to $10,000 to underrepresented and underserved students throughout their college careers.
The announcement Wednesday shows the effort being made by the UW System under interim President Tommy Thompson to reach underserved audiences and expand educational opportunities.
Officials at three of the campuses who will launch the pre-college programs say the money will amplify the work they already are doing to support aspiring college students, especially as Wisconsin high schoolers and their families struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It goes back to just making them aware of the opportunities available to them,” said Tammy McGuckin, UW-Parkside’s vice provost of student affairs and enrollment services.
Reaching students early in high school helps them understand all their options when it comes to getting a college degree, and it helps them navigate all the forms and preparations needed to actually enrol, McGuckin said.
“The thing that you hate to hear is: ‘I didn’t think that I could afford it.’ Or: ‘I didn’t think that college was for me.’ Or: ‘I didn’t know that you could major in something like that,’ ” she said. “Those are the conversations that weigh on me.”
While each campus will put its own spin on the pre-college program — and details are not worked out — all will place university-paid college counsellors in local schools to closely support high school students. The idea is not to supplant some of the work of high school counsellors but complement it as needed.
And while those counsellors will place emphasis on attending their local UW college, or any UW school, they will work to help students regardless of where they ultimately choose to study, including state technical colleges and private colleges.
“We hope that the students will choose UW-Whitewater, but in the event that they don’t, those coaches will help them to go to the school of their choice,” Kenny Yarbrough, UW-Whitewater’s associate vice chancellor of equity, diversity, inclusion and support programs said.
In a news conference Wednesday, Thompson said the program was designed with the specific aim of supporting students who are the first in their families to attend college and those from under-represented backgrounds.
“(The goal is) not so much recruitment for enrollment (growth), but recruitment for particular individuals to come to our universities that probably had never thought about it or probably were not prepared to go,” Thompson said.