UWM makes an effort to aid incoming freshmen

Kendra Patterson, a popular extrovert in high school, clammed up and shut down.

Cassie Eller made a sacrifice: her social life.

David Weirick discovered his drive.

These three freshmen arrived at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee from different backgrounds with different expectations.

They faced tough odds: Fewer than half of freshmen graduate within six years. Nearly a third drop out the first year.

UWM wants them to succeed. For the second year, it is offering freshmen extra help to keep them on track.

Results are mixed: The assistance has served one student well, but the university has let another down, in ways both big and small.

And, as the first-semester experiences of Patterson, Eller and Weirick reveal, success and even academic survival depend as much on the student as the university.

The Journal Sentinel is following these three to get a glimpse of what makes or breaks a freshman year.

The lessons are important. With an enrollment of about 28,000, UWM educates more Wisconsin students than any other university in the state.

The university loses money when a student drops out. Students who drop out lose money of their own.

So do state taxpayers, who invest nearly $1 billion in the UW System, about $4,000 an undergraduate.

The students’ journeys have just begun. Second semester starts tomorrow.

It will bring more difficult courses for Weirick and Eller. Patterson will start over at a new college.