Seven Years of College Down the Drain:

Bluto of Animal House Lives On At the UW

Over 40 Percent of Students in the University of Wisconsin System Fail to Graduate Within Six Years of Enrolling

Despite a steady increase over the past decade, only 26.5 percent of students in the University of Wisconsin system graduated in four years in 2008. According to recent work by Dr. Harry Stille of the Higher Education Research/Policy Center, this rate lags behind Midwestern states like Illinois and Minnesota, and is just one of the problems facing Wisconsin’s higher education today. Of the state’s approximate 120,000 undergraduate students, just 32,000 will be expected to have a bachelor’s degree by the end of their fourth year.

Though these figures increase when the timeline is expanded, the data suggests that over 40% of students in the University of Wisconsin system fail to graduate within six years of enrolling. Between a window of 1998-2008, the state’s students graduated at a 57.8 percent clip – and less that half of the students at locations outside of Madison graduated (49.5 percent). Campuses in Milwaukee, Parkside, and Superior all posted completion rates below 40 percent over this period.

The disparity between the graduation rates of the system’s main campus in Madison and the rest of the state is substantial. The University of Wisconsin – Madison had a four-year graduation rate of 51 percent and a six-year rate of 82 percent in 2008. By comparison, all other state run universities had figures at 19.6 percent and 49.5 percent, respectively.

Wisconsin’s four-year graduation rate was the worst in its region, trailing Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, and Illinois. The state fared better amongst six-year figures, placing third out of the six states and 14th nationally. In all, 37 percent of all students in Wisconsin’s public universities failed to graduate altogether between 1998 and 2008 – accounting for 44,925 students. This figure again ranks the state 14th in the country.

Despite solid rankings, Wisconsin’s university system still needs work. Stille’s Academic Quality Rank average (based on freshmen admissions input data) puts the state in the top ten nationally, but still produces major gaps when it comes to student graduation rates – a correlation that suggests that Wisconsin’s high school graduates may not be entirely prepared for secondary level coursework. More importantly, more than one in three state university students fail to graduate altogether. These dropouts cost approximately $291 million to educate over a ten-year span.

As Wisconsin’s very own Chris Farley once pontificated in the under-appreciated Tommy Boy, “You know a lot of people go to college for seven years.”

The problem is, at the end of the seven years, they are supposed to be doctors, lawyers, and scientists. Not drop-outs.

By Christian D’Andrea

MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst