A pre-college program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that partners with schools to help prepare minority and low-income students for college is narrowing its focus to Milwaukee and Madison public schools, the university announced Monday.
An outside evaluation of the Pre-college Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence (PEOPLE) last summer found the program wasn’t adequately serving students in Milwaukee — the largest district in the state with the highest number of economically disadvantaged students and students of color.
The program, which enrolled only Milwaukee students when it was created in 1999, expanded in 2000 to include minority and low-income students in Madison area schools, and ultimately other school districts. At the time, only 2% of all African American graduates in Wisconsin were considered academically prepared for admission to UW-Madison, compared to 25% of white graduates.
Since the program’s inception, it has failed to reach students in Milwaukee early enough or help enough of them get to UW-Madison because students could not enroll until the summer between their freshman and sophomore years in high school, the evaluation noted. Madison students may be admitted into the program in second, sixth or ninth grade.
The program was intended to grow diversity of student enrollment at UW-Madison, but has contributed a small percentage of students to freshman classes. Only a little more than half of PEOPLE participants who apply to UW-Madison are admitted.
As a result of the decision to hone in on Milwaukee and Madison schools, the PEOPLe program no longer will recruit new students from Waukesha, Kenosha, Racine, Sun Prairie, Verona and Middleton. Those already in the program will be grandfathered in, and continue to receive all benefits, including the PEOPLE full tuition scholarship and support services if they are admitted to UW-Madison, officials said.
Each year, the program recruits a total of 100 high school students from all participating communities through a competitive process.
Madison currently has 462 students in the PEOPLE program, and the Milwaukee area currently has 270 students, according to Gail Ford, the program’s assistant director.
To improve equity in access and services, the PEOPLE program is bumping up its entry point for Milwaukee students from ninth grade to eighth grade, starting in fall 2018. After-school tutoring sites also will be established in Milwaukee schools, and the program is adding three pre-college advisers to Milwaukee.
Recruitment in Milwaukee will continue at the ninth grade level until the fall of 2018, when it will begin at the eighth-grade level. Early enrollment for Madison students in elementary and middle school will be dropped. Ultimately, the program could serve up to 1,000 students at a time, as students could participate for five years before graduating from high school.
Retention has been an issue. The evaluation of the PEOPLE program last summer found less than 61% of PEOPLE participants in each high school graduating class were completing the program. By refocusing resources, the program aims to boost its retention rate to 75%.
College outcomes also have been mixed. While overall GPA improved, reducing the performance gap in comparison to other student groups, less than a third of PEOPLE participants graduated from college in four years, and the average six-year graduation rate was 66% — lower than that of comparable groups of students.
High school students in the PEOPLE program spend several weeks in the summer living in UW-Madison dorms to expose them to college, and take classes to make sure they are up to grade level in math, English and science.
Students in the program who ultimately are admitted to UW-Madison receive a full tuition scholarship. The pre-college program aims to prepare students for enrollment at any UW campus, but those campuses currently do not offer full tuition scholarships to PEOPLE participants, Ford said.
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