UW System enrollment stays steady, branch campuses continue to decline

System president says new numbers show students, families 'appreciate our affordability and our accessibility'

Two graduates in caps and gowns sit on the Abraham Lincoln statue at Bascom Hill at UW-Madison to take photos.
Sam Lopez, left, and Daniel Jablonski, right, take graduation photos as their semester nears its end Saturday, May 7, 2022, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The two have already lined up jobs in their respective fields of education and atmospheric and oceanic science. Angela Major/WPR

University of Wisconsin System enrollment is projected to remain stable this fall, but most branch campuses continue to see declining enrollment.

Overall, the system expects to have 540 more students than last year across all 13 universities. UW-Platteville, UW-Stevens Point and UW-Whitewater all project increases of about 3 percent compared to last fall. UW-Madison and UW-Green Bay also expect an increase.

Other campuses will see modest decreases. UW-Oshkosh is projected to have a drop of about 1.7 percent, or 237 students.

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Enrollment at Wisconsin’s universities and two-year campuses has been trending down in recent years, with changing demographics and shifts in public perception of college degrees contributing to the decline.

System President Jay Rothman said the preliminary estimates for this fall’s student population mark the first year-to-year increase in overall enrollment since 2014.

“I think these figures represent and reflect the value that students and parents put on UW System education,” Rothman said. “I think they appreciate our affordability and our accessibility. And that impacts — and will change the lives of — those students who will become graduates and who will go on to do great things, both in the state of Wisconsin and beyond.”

Eight of the 13 branch campuses are projecting declines this year, with a total drop of 272 students. UW-Platteville’s Richland campus essentially closed last year after years of steep enrollment declines.

Rothman said he is continuing to work with community and university leaders to find the best path forward for the two-year schools.

“Each of them is unique. We are committed to our access mission, but we also have to be mindful of our financial stewardship and also the student experience on those campuses,” he said.

Some branch campuses are expected to gain students. UW-Platteville Baraboo and UW-Whitewater Rock County are both projecting increases of about 17 percent, while UW-Green Bay Manitowoc is expecting a jump of about 7 percent.

Much of the system’s stable enrollment can be attributed to an increase in new freshmen. Excluding UW-Madison, new freshman enrollment increased by three percent, or 592 students. UW-Green Bay is likely to end up with 157 more freshmen this year, a 15.7 percent increase. UW-Parkside projects an uptick of just over 28 percent, or 157 new freshmen.

UW-Madison intentionally took fewer freshmen this year after a larger than anticipated class last fall. Madison will have 676 fewer first-year students this year, a drop of 7.8 percent.

Projected enrollment is based on the first day of classes. Final enrollment figures usually differ slightly. They will be reported to the Department of Education later this fall.