UW-Oshkosh Fox Cities latest branch campus to close

6 2-year campuses in the UW system have been marked for closure

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UW-Oshkosh sign
A sign is seen on Algoma Boulevard at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. (Joe Schulz/WPR)

Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson said Thursday the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh is closing the Fox Cities campus in Menasha. 

This will be the sixth two-year campus in the UW system to be marked for closure as the state continues to grapple with lower enrollment in its university system. 

Nelson said via email he was told of the closure Thursday morning in a phone call with UW-Oshkosh Chancellor Andrew Leavitt.

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In a letter the the campus community Thursday, Leavitt said in-person teaching and learning at the Fox Cities campus will end on June 30, 2025. He says Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman supports the plan and has directed the university to move forward with it.

In a statement, Nelson criticized the move. 

“Like millions of Americans, Chancellor Andy Leavitt and UW System President Jay Rothman are the beneficiaries of a strong education system,” Nelson wrote. “And in our schools, we learn many things: reading, writing, math, and science. But we also learn timeless values: honesty, hard work, and integrity.” 

Rothman said in a statement the decision to close the campus was “tough,” but will ensure UW-Oshkosh has a “bright future.”

“Unfortunately, the analysis is that the market and enrollment cannot sustain the Fox Cities Campus moving forward,” he said.

UW-Oshkosh also ended in-person classes at the Fond du Lac campus last month and the faculty was transferred to the main Oshkosh campus. 

At the time, Leavitt said about 70 percent of the students moved to UW-Oshkosh as well. 

UW-Platteville’s Richland Center campus was the first to announce it would end in-person instruction in November 2022. The school officially closed last year. 

In addition to the two UWO branch campus closure, UW-Milwaukee ended classes at its branch campus in Washington County last month and will end classes at its Waukesha campus next year. UW-Green Bay ended in-person instruction at the Marinette campus this spring.

Rothman has said rapidly declining enrollment and a plan to realign two-year branch campuses with “market realities,” have led to the closures. 

In the case of the Fox Cities campus, enrollment has dropped nearly 70 percent since 2010. 

There were 1,826 students enrolled at the campus in 2010. This school year there were 563 students, according to the UW-System. 

Leavitt told the campus community that faculty members at the Fox Cities campus would move to UWO’s main Oshkosh campus.

“Those transition plans will take shape into the months ahead,” he said. “Further financial evaluation is necessary as we develop the 2026 budget to determine Fox campus staff members’ opportunities to transition.”

Outagamie County executive says communication with university officials was lacking

At the May 20 UW-Oshkosh Fox Cities Board of Trustees meeting, officials reveled that Leavitt had shared analysis on the future of the Fox Cities campus with Rothman.

Nelson told WPR on Wednesday that he had been trying to get in contact with UW-Oshkosh officials about the future of the Fox Cities campus, but those conversations had broken down prior to his conversation with Leavitt Thursday.

“Oshkosh and Chancellor Leavitt have missed meetings,” Nelson said Wednesday. “They have failed follow through on promises to deliver us information and it has come to the point now where we actually have to do an open records request to get that information.”

WPR submitted an open records request to UW-Oshkosh and the Universities of Wisconsin on Wednesday for records related to UWO’s analysis of the Fox Cities campus.

Nelson also said losing the two-year campus would jeopardize the future of higher education in northeast Wisconsin.

“This is the toehold that UW system has into the Fox Valley,” he said of the Fox Cities campus. “We lose that, the future of the UW System statewide is truly in critical condition and the Wisconsin Idea itself is in jeopardy. That is no exaggeration.”

While Nelson expressed frustration over the decision to close the campus, Winnebago County Executive Jon Doemel had a different perspective.

In a statement, Doemel said the closure was “inevitable,” citing declining enrollment and the changing higher education landscape.

“The right decisions are not always the most popular,” Doemel said. “The closure of the Fox Cities Campus is the epitome of this reality.”

Local officials, residents saddened by closure

Yvonne Monfils, an Outagamie County Board member on the UW-Oshkosh Fox Cities Board of Trustees, said Thursday was “a sad day for the Fox Valley.”

She said county officials were trying to make a plan to keep the campus in place. But she says communication with university officials was a challenge.

“The forecast for the new enrollment to rise immediately is not a good picture,” Monfils said. “However, the trustees did not wanna make a mistake, and five or 10 years from now say, ‘Oh, why did we close that campus?’”

Menasha resident Bethanie Gengler finished her associates degree at the Fox Cities campus in 2018. She was sad to hear about the news of its closure.

At Fox Cities, she said she enjoyed smaller class sizes than she experienced attending UWO’s main campus for her bachelors degree. She also said the two-year campus had strong resources, like a planetarium and a performing arts center.

“It’s just a tremendous loss for our community,” Gengler said. “For new students, it’s going to limit their ability to attend a UW School. It’s going to require more resources, more traveling and more gas in order to get this degree, as well as additional tuition.”

Menasha Mayor Austin Hammond said he had a conversation with Leavitt Thursday morning ahead of the announcement. He said he was saddened by the news, calling the campus “a gem for the city.”

“It’s a pathway in higher education for students here in the Fox Cities that maybe aren’t sure what their trajectory into higher education is,” he said. “I think it’s a great place for non traditional students of different ages and walks of life to be able to pursue that higher education.”