Wisconsin is at or near that national average in several education measures, including overall degree attainment, young adult participation and postsecondary productivity. Yet, the state lags behind in the percent of high school graduates going directly to college. The legislature has enacted need-based and merit-based financial aid programs in recent years and should evaluate how they, along with a dual-enrollment program, could encourage more graduates to pursue postsecondary education. Further, policymakers should consider strategies to close the fairly significant education attainment gaps between white and minority populations.

Improving educational opportunities and attainment of all populations will help address a projected increase in the number of jobs in Wisconsin that will require postsecondary credentials in the coming decade. While Wisconsin produces one of the highest percentages of health care credentials, a greater focus on high-tech and STEM fields could help the state respond to an evolving global economy. State leaders also should consider options for creating college and career pathways for individuals with no postsecondary credential and those with some credits but no degree to fill short- and long-term workforce demands for all skill levels.


How does Wisconsin rank compared to the national average?

  • Adults 25-64 with college degrees: 26th (38.2% vs. 38.1%)
  • High school graduates going directly to college: 36th (59.1% vs. 63.3%)
  • Population age 18-24 enrolled in college: 16th (37.2% vs. 36.2%)
  • Health credentials awarded per 1,000 health employees: 2nd (73.8%% vs. 49.2% )
  • Credentials awarded per 1,000 18- to 44-year-olds with no college degree:10th (45.8% vs. 37.6%)
  • Workers with college degrees earning low wages: 24th (24.6% vs. 22.9%)

Wisconsin Data Profile

Wisconsin Data PowerPoint

Wisconsin is at or near the national average in several education metrics, including overall degree attainment, young adult participation and postsecondary productivity. Modest investments in postsecondary education could sustain completion gains made with young adults, while providing access to older adults and minorities. Leveraging state funds in this way might propel Wisconsin into the upper echelon of states. However, lack of action on minority attainment gaps and on the shortage of middle-skill workers could produce the opposite effect: a situation where state educational and economic prospects decline. To achieve economic growth, the state might leverage higher education productivity and high net migration to create job density in high-demand fields like health care and STEM.


Boosting College Completion has produced a comprehensive 50-state legislative database related to college completion and workforce development. The database will grow as we continue to collect and analyze policies.
Highlights of Wisconsin’s policies:
  • Job Training Grants for Construction Trades – S.B. 62 (2009)
  • P-20 Longitudinal Data System – S.B. 371 (2009)
  • Wisconsin Covenant Scholars Program – A.B. 75 (2009)
  • Agricultural Education and Workforce Development Council – A.B. 83 (2008)
  • Governor’s Business Council – Executive Order 193 (2007)
  • Scholarship Eligibility for Vocational Students – S.B. 370  (2006)

Check out the BCC database for a more complete summary of Wisconsin’s policies. Click on the Menu arrow for additional options, such as printing the summary.

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Boosting College Completion has developed a policy profile for Wisconsin based on an analysis of data and policies related to college completion and workforce development.

Wisconsin Policy Profile

Until recently, a large percentage of Wisconsin workers could receive a living wage with just a high school diploma. However, 61% of jobs in 2018 will require some college training or a postsecondary credential, whether it is a certificate, license or degree. To address this need for postsecondary credentials and to enhance the employment odds of residents, Wisconsin should develop a statewide strategy for leveraging state postsecondary investments to increase college completion and meet workforce needs. The strategy should include ambitious statewide goals and identify metrics for measuring progress toward those goals.

Based on a review of existing data, any state strategy should increase attainment among traditional age students and older adults. Wisconsin graduates high school students at the second highest rate in the nation, yet only three out of five graduates immediately enroll in college. In addition, 54% of Wisconsin adults have a high school diploma or some college but no degree.

To improve college attainment rates among recent high school graduates and older adults in a manner that positively impacts the economy, the legislature might consider:

  1. Developing statewide goals for increasing college completion in high-demand fields and identifying goals and metrics for measuring progress towards those goals
  2. Providing incentives for institutions to redesign programs of study so that they accelerate learning, reduce time in college and increase productivity
  3. Connecting education and workforce data to find out what college graduates are earning, the fields they are employed in, the value of their degrees in relation to their wages and if they stay in state
  4. Scaling innovative institutional and community programs that carry a low relative cost yet produce a high impact, especially for low-income and minority youth
  5. How financial aid can be structured to provide greater assurances that students graduate on-time, with less debt, and complete degrees in high-demand fields.


News & Updates

Bruce Vandal testified before an Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities hearing on November 8, 2011. He discussed the correlation of postsecondary attainment and its contribution to the economic growth of states.


Policy Leaders




Rep. Stephen Nass Chair, Committee on Colleges and Universities






Sen. Luther Olsen Chair, Education Committee



Wisconsin is participating in the following national initiatives that are related to college completion and workforce development:

American Diploma Project (ADP)

Common Core Standards Initiative

SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium

Shifting Gears

Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Program (TAACCCT)



The following resources were produced by Boosting College Completion, state agencies and postsecondary systems.

Wisconsin Data Profile

Wisconsin Data PowerPoint

Wisconsin Policy Profile

Annual Accountability Reports — University of Wisconsin System



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