Universities of Wisconsin enrollment up for the first time at 4-year schools since 2014

2-year campuses continue to see a decline in enrollment

Green grass and a blue sky surround Bascom Hall.
The sun shines on Bascom Hill on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021, at UW-Madison in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

For the first time since 2014, enrollment at the Universities of Wisconsin grew over the previous year, climbing by more than 1,700 students, according to the official 10-day enrollment figures announced this week.

While the increase is small – just over 1 percent – it’s a bright spot for the system that has struggled with waning enrollment for the last decade, a decline that’s prompted closures and job cuts at campuses around the state.

The official enrollment this year is 162,528, up from 160,782 in fall 2022.

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Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman told the UW System Board of Regents Thursday he is especially encouraged by the number of incoming freshman.

New first-year student enrollment across the Universities of Wisconsin is up at 10 of 13 main university campuses.

“There are several UWs posting notable increases in their freshman enrollment across the system,” Rothman said. “When you exclude Madison, which intentionally managed its freshman class down due to capacity constraints, our freshman enrollment is up 3 percent.”

New freshman enrollment of Wisconsin residents is up 3.4 percent overall.

UW-Green Bay is the fastest growing university in the state, with a 7.6 percent year-over-year increase in headcount and 10,338 students. Incoming freshmen at UW-Green Bay has increased 10.6 percent.

“UW-Green Bay is an outlier, and in a good way,” said UW-Green Bay Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Kate Burns in a written statement. “Our access mission and efforts to create an end-to-end educational pipeline for everyone who wants to learn have been instrumental in our growth. Serving students at all stages is working and this is exactly what Northeast Wisconsin needs right now.”

The 10-day enrollment figures for each university are:

  • UW-Eau Claire: 9,949
  • UW-Green Bay: 10,338
  • UW-La Crosse: 10,274
  • UW-Madison: 50,335
  • UW-Milwaukee: 22,703
  • UW Oshkosh: 13,778
  • UW-Parkside: 4,029
  • UW-Platteville: 6,700
  • UW-River Falls: 5,058
  • UW-Stevens Point: 8,184
  • UW-Stout: 6,938
  • UW-Superior: 2,720
  • UW-Whitewater: 11,522

Enrollment at the system’s two-year campuses has not improved. Branch campus enrollment fell by 4 percent, or 199 enrollments.

Because of years of declining enrollments and other market conditions, branch campuses are being closed.

In-person classes will end at UW-Milwaukee at Washington County and UW-Oshkosh, Fond du Lac by June 2024. UW-Platteville at Richland closed in July.

“The ongoing declines in enrollment will require us to realign our work here, to best meet market realities and prepare for the future,” Rothman told the Regents. “As you know, last month, we decided to close one campus entirely this year – UW-Platteville at Richland, and end in-person classes at two others. These decisions are in direct response to evolving student demand we are seeing in the marketplace.”

Rothman said the UW System will work with county partners at the 10 remaining campuses to determine how to actively serve students moving forward including expanding degree options.