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Sauk County board directs administrator to set aside funds for UW branch campus

UW-Platteville projects a $390K deficit for the Baraboo campus for the upcoming school year

A blue sign reading "University of Wisconsin-Platteville" stands on the schools' campus.
A sign on UW-Platteville’s campus. Miranda Suarez/WPR

The Sauk County Board of Supervisors voted last week to provide a financial boost to the University of Wisconsin- Platteville Baraboo Sauk County, the smallest campus in the Universities of Wisconsin system.

The board voted 28-1 in favor of including $390,000 in each of the next two years to help cover maintenance expenses at the campus, including cleaning, landscaping and minor repairs.

Supervisor Rebecca Klitzke voted against the measure. Two other supervisors did not vote.

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UW-Platteville is projecting a $390,000 deficit for the Baraboo campus for the 2024-25 school year. Sauk County Board Chair Tim McCumber said the county board’s goal is to help the university get to a budget-neutral position.

Their decision comes as two-year campuses elsewhere in the state have been shutting their doors amid budget woes and declining enrollment.

“People learning and having knowledge and contributing to our society and our economies are important to us as a whole. So, we need to protect these assets as best we can,” McCumber said.

Enrollment at the campus has fallen by more than half since 2014. Only 210 students were enrolled for the fall semester.

Baraboo Sauk County campus director Stephen Swallen said with the funds from the county, the campus will be able to focus on expanding program offerings.

“It’s been just simply fantastic that (the county board of supervisors) recognize(s) the needs for the facilities and maintenance that the campus has. And they’re really stepping in with this tremendous additional amount,” Swallen said.

Swallen said there is no guarantee the campus will not need help from local partners in the future.

“But I really feel good about where we are and our financial position going forward,” he said.

Recent closures made by the system

County supervisors and campus leaders have watched other branch campuses close.

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee will close its Waukesha campus at the end of the spring 2025 semester. 

The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay announced in January it will suspend in-person classes at its Marinette County campus when the spring semester ends. In-person classes will also end at UW-Milwaukee at Washington County and UW-Oshkosh, Fond du Lac in June. UW-Platteville at Richland has been without students since May 2023.

Supervisor Sheila Carver cast a “heartfelt vote” in favor of the resolution on Tuesday.

“I don’t want to end up like Richland County. I want this campus here,” Carver said.

She is a Baraboo Sauk County alumna. She said her time as a student was an affordable way to start her post secondary education. She said those years were some of the best years of her life.

“It’s a nice stepping stone for if you’re not sure what your major is going to be. You just go there, you take your prerequisites, and get them out of the way, grow up a little bit, figure out what you really want to do in life,” Carver said.

McCumber said he hopes the commitment from the county will tell the UW Board of Regents that they are committed to protecting the campus.

“Let’s face it, we’re the smallest one in the system. We’re ripe for the picking,” McCumber said.

Next steps

The approved resolution directs the county administrator to include a total of $780,000 to cover operational overhead at the branch campus over the next two years.

McCumber said the money will come from sales tax revenue. Sauk County is the second county in the state behind Milwaukee in direct visitor spending in 2022.

If approved in the upcoming budgets, McCumber said the county will take over maintenance operations from the school. He suspects existing staff will be able to do the work for less, potentially saving the county money.

The board will talk about the potential change in maintenance upkeep with the city of Baraboo. The county and city have equally shared ownership of the campus facilities since it opened in 1968.

“This has been a tremendously positive week. Everybody on campus is feeling really happy about our current situation and even more excited about things going forward,” Swallen said.