U-Wisconsin’s Diversity Program Is Expensive, Failing, And Here To Stay

Blake Neff | Reporter

A $4-million-dollar-per-year diversity program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) has almost entirely failed, according to a new report. Despite this, the school shows now signs of stopping the program, and it may instead see a big boost in funds.

UW commissioned an independent study of its Pre-College Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence, better known as PEOPLE. The purpose of the program, which started in 1999, is to provide college preparatory help to students from non-white, low-income, and less-educated backgrounds in the hopes it will improve their chances of later attending and graduating from UW.

But the study, carried out by Education Northwest and released late last week, found if anything, PEOPLE has been counterproductive. Only 23 percent of participants who later attended UW were able to graduate in four years, and the six-year graduation rate was just 66 percent. Both figures, the report said, were lower than those for students of similar backgrounds who did not participate in PEOPLE. The report also found the graduation rates for PEOPLE participants have been declining, even as the graduation rates for low-income UW students as a whole have been rising.

The program is also only moderately successful at drawing students to UW. Only about 46 percent of program participants even end up enrolling at UW.

Some might view the damning report as a reason to pull the plug on PEOPLE, which has a permanent staff of 22 people and costs $3.5 to $4 million per year. If the program were eliminated, the saved money could fund 160 full-tuition scholarships per year, based on the current cost of attendance for in-state residents. For the sake of comparison, 266 children participated in PEOPLE in 2014.

But instead of pulling the plug, UW vice provost and chief diversity officer Patrick Sims reached a different conclusion, announcing he would seek to increase funding for the program.

Sims suggested a substantial increase to PEOPLE’s scope (and presumably, a similarly substantial boost in resources) in the Milwaukee area could potentially produce better results.

“We have a lot of soul-searching to do about what is our priority,” Sims said, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “We can’t be everything to everybody.”

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