Spring Enrollment Dropped By More Than 10 Percent At 4 UW Campuses Since 2019

UW-Platteville Saw 17.2 Percent Decline In Spring Enrollment Over Last 3 Years

A student in a face mask rolls a blue bin filled with belongings
UW-Stevens Point student Cole Pecor, left, moves his belongings to a different residence hall Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. Angela Major/WPR

Four campuses within the University of Wisconsin System have seen spring enrollments decline by more than 10 percent since 2019. UW-Platteville saw spring enrollments drop by more than 17 percent in the last three years.

Preliminary spring enrollment data obtained through a state open records request shows an average decline of 3.7 percent across the state’s 13 universities and branch campuses between 2019 and this year. That’s not far off from a year-to-year decline of 2 percent reported by the UW System last fall.

But the new spring enrollment data shows significant declines over the past three years at some campuses. UW-Platteville reported a 17.2 percent drop from spring of 2019 through spring of 2021. A spokesperson for the campuses said administrators were not available to comment.

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UW-Oshkosh enrollment fell by 14.3 percent during that same period. UW-Whitewater, UW-Stout and UW-Stevens Point had declines of around 10 percent between spring of 2019 and spring of this year.

Rep. Dave Murphy, R-Greenville, chairs the state Assembly’s Colleges and Universities Committee. He told WPR there has been a “continuing trend of downward enrollment” within the UW System and that the average decline this spring isn’t unexpected.

I think what we need to do, though, is look at that a little bit over a period of time and see if it’s a long term trend, if it’s a one-year anomaly for that particular campus, or exactly what might be going on there,” said Murphy.

Four UW campuses reported spring enrollment gains over the past three years. UW-Madison added around 2,600 students, which works out to a nearly 10 percent increase in enrollment. UW-Madison spokesperson Meredith McGlone said no administrators were available for an interview about the spring enrollment data. But she said it’s driven by efforts to grow the campus’ fall incoming class over the last several years.

UW-Green Bay’s enrollment grew by 9.2 percent between spring of 2019 and spring of 2021. Interim Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Kate Burns told WPR the university has seen enrollment grow over the past six years, including a 2 percent increase during the pandemic.

“That was very unusual within the UW system in terms of that growth,” said Burns. “Most campuses did see a decline.”

Burns credited new academic programs in high-demand fields like nursing, engineering, business and psychology along with bachelor’s degree programs at its branch campuses in Marinette, Sheboygan and Manitowoc.

“We grew at all four of our campus locations this year, and we were the only school within the system to show growth across all of their locations,” said Burns.

Some two-year campuses within the UW System have seen significant enrollment declines, including a 37 percent drop at UW-Platteville Sauk County.

In March, the National Student Clearing House Research Center reported a 2.9 percent average enrollment decline across the U.S.