Students in one of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s most well-known outreach programs for disadvantaged students of color, Pre-College Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence (PEOPLE), graduate from the university at lower rates than other low-income and minority students, according to an evaluation by Education Northwest of Portland, Ore., a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that has a stated goal of helping all children and youth reach their full potential.

According to the 180-plus page evaluation that took place from June 2014 to September 2015 with a draft report submitted in October 2015, 23 percent of students who entered UW-Madison as freshmen through PEOPLE scholars from 2002 to 2011 graduated in four years. The flagship’s overall four-year graduation rate was about 60 percent. The evaluation also found that PEOPLE, which comprises five programs across the state, lacks centralized organization and has not used data to inform its decision-making.
The PEOPLE program started in 1999 with the aim of improving student diversity by preparing first-generation college students, low-income students and racial-ethnic minority students at an earlier age for admission to UW-Madison and other schools. PEOPLE is a complex network of summer and school-year programs for elementary school, middle school, high school, and college students across Wisconsin. The program has three components: PEOPLE Prep (for elementary students), the PEOPLE Pre-College Program (for middle and high school students), and the PEOPLE College Scholar Program (for college students).

To investigate these issues, over the course of a year Education Northwest conducted a mixed-methods evaluation of the PEOPLE program. The evaluation team conducted interviews, focus groups, and surveys with diverse stakeholders; observations of afterschool and summer programming; and review of a wide range of documents related to the program. The team also analyzed PEOPLE program data and University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) data regarding trends in application, participation, and participant progress in the program.

The report listed the following evidence of pre-college and college outcomes:
• While enrollment in the Pre-College Program has remained stable, the retention rate has declined in recent years.
• Almost all PEOPLE Pre-College Program completers plan to attend college after graduation. The percentage of completers planning to attend UW-Madison is approximately 46 percent.
• Overall, a little more than half of PEOPLE participants who apply to UW-Madison are admitted. The admission rate of PEOPLE participants at UW-Madison has slightly declined over time, but most students enroll if admitted. African American applicants from PEOPLE are less likely to be accepted to UW-Madison than other groups.
Overall, the PEOPLE program contributes a small percentage of students to the freshman classes of various racial/ethnic student groups at UW-Madison.
• The overall GPA of college scholars has improved over time, reducing the performance gap in comparison to other groups.
• Less than a third of PEOPLE college scholars graduate in four years and the average six-year graduation rate across cohorts is 66 percent. The six-year graduation rate for college scholars is lower than that of other comparable groups of students.

This was the first evaluation of the PEOPLE program that Education Northwest conducted in its 16-year history. They found that the university spends about $3.5 million to $4 million annually on the PEOPLE program, which employs a staff of 22 that expands to about 200 in the summer.

The report also found that:
• The proportion of Hispanic/Latino students accepted into the program has increased, while the proportion of African-American students accepted into the program has decreased. Hispanic/Latinos now represent the largest percentage of accepted students.
• Program retention rates have declined over time, with fewer than 61 percent of students in each high school graduation cohort now completing the program, according to the evaluation.
• The admission rate of PEOPLE participants at UW-Madison has slightly decreased, but most students enroll if admitted.