Odle Discusses Rise of Direct Admissions on WPR Show

Several campuses in Universities of Wisconsin to adopt enrollment change for next fall

December 5, 2023   |   By WCER Communications

School of Education Assistant Professor Taylor Odle served on a direct admissions task force for the Universities of Wisconsin.

School of Education Assistant Professor Taylor Odle served on a direct admissions task force for the Universities of Wisconsin.

UW–Madison’s Taylor Odle shared his expertise recently on the rise of direct admissions programs in Wisconsin universities and across the nation on WPR’s The Morning Show. Direct admissions is a practice in which colleges proactively offer admission to students based on existing, readily available data, such as grade point average or standardized test score, rather than requiring formal applications.

Odle, an assistant professor of educational policy studies in the School of Education (SoE), this year published a policy brief and a national working paper on direct admissions, and he was a member of the system-wide task force that studied the practice for the Universities of Wisconsin, where 10 campuses will offer direct admissions next fall. The exceptions will be UW–Madison, UW–La Crosse and UW–Eau Claire, where a more holistic approach to admissions will continue, including the consideration of formal applications with elements such as essays and recommendations in addition to academic scores.

But for less selective colleges, where meeting a certain academic threshold is the bottom-line requirement, it makes no sense to require additional hurdles, Odle said during his live discussion of about 20 minutes with show host Kate Archer Kent on Nov. 29.

“Why have we made the process so hard when we already have the data we need?” says Odle, who also is a researcher at SoE’s Wisconsin Center for Education Research. “Let’s let families focus on choosing the best of those less selective colleges to attend, rather than on the process.”

Although much of the media attention on admissions is focused on colleges in the Ivy League, Odle noted only 6 percent of students attend highly selective colleges, to which less than 25 percent of applicants are granted admission.

After Idaho adopted direct admissions, Odle said, records showed enrollment gains for the state’s 2-year and less-selective colleges, as well as more in-state admissions. Wisconsin should expect to see similar results, he added, with students of color, students from low-income families, and students who would be the first in their families to attend college likely to see the highest gains in attendance.

One caller to the show worried that direct admissions would result in more students who may not be as committed to succeeding in college, resulting in more enrollees who drop out and then have big loans to pay back. That caller said it made more sense to simply lower the cost of education for everyone.

“We still do need to address the element of affordability,” Odle agreed, “separate from the admissions process,” though he noted no evidence from the eight states that have adopted the practice shows that directly admitted students are any less committed to their college education.

Once students are directly admitted, Odle said, they should determine what kind of financial aid packages they can get before agreeing to enroll anywhere. “But directly admitting someone in itself doesn’t require anyone to attend or require them to take out any loans,” he noted.

You can listen to the full recording of Odle’s appearance on The Morning Show here.