Following years of decline and changing student preferences, two branch campuses part of the Universities of Wisconsin will be ending in-person classes, and one two-year branch campus will be closing, system president Jay Rotham announced Tuesday.
With UW-Milwaukee at Washington County and UW Oshkosh, Fond du Lac adopting an online-only model and UW Platteville Richland closing, 10 branch campuses remain open. Rotham has urged the chancellors of the surviving campuses to begin exploring new ways of utilizing the physical space, such as by offering four-year and graduate degree options, upskilling and reskilling opportunities for the existing workforce and creating more K12 outreach initiatives.
“The status quo is not sustainable,” Rothman said in the announcement. “This decision is a response to an evolving student marketplace. Offering students an educational experience they deserve while working with local leaders to ensure it meets their expectations is key to our long-term success.”
A history of declining enrollment
Already a small campus, UW-Milwaukee at Washington County’s enrollment has fallen by nearly 800 students since 2020 and is now just south of 300 students as of fall 2022, according to Universities of Wisconsin data. Similarly, about 500 students attend UW Oshkosh now after more than a 500-student enrollment drop between fall 2020 and fall 2022. The system now has 161,322 students enrolled.
UW-Platteville Richland had already ended in-person classes in July before this announcement. From hosting over 500 students in 2015, the school’s most recent enrollment figures showed an estimated 64 students last fall, WPR reports.
Rotham reaffirmed that this decision is not reflective of any cost-saving strategies and is instead a reflection of the desires of today’s students.
“Moreover, online enrollment has been trending up as well,” he said. “The market is telling us that increasingly students are pursuing a degree at our four-year campuses or online.”
However, 10 of the system’s 13 campuses facing a combined $18 million deficit may prove otherwise. UW Green Bay Manitowoc, UW Platteville Baraboo Sauk County and UW Whitewater Rock County are the only branch campuses to not have experienced an enrollment decline in the last year. Positive gains from these schools helped the system experience an enrollment increase of 540 students, the first net positive since 2014.