Universities Close Campuses Amid Plummeting Enrollment

On Tuesday, Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman revealed that two more two-year branch campuses would close by the year’s end due to declining enrollment and rising competition from four-year institutions and online education.

Rothman announced his decision to close the Washington County campus of UW-Milwaukee and the campus of UW-Oshkosh in a conference call with reporters. He predicted that by June of 2024, both institutions would no longer use teachers in the classroom. Both institutions and three other two-year campuses have seen an increase in enrollment this fall, but it has not been enough to reverse a more than ten-year decline.

“The market is telling us that the mission of the two-year branch campuses is not as enticing as it previously was,” Rothman said.

According to figures compiled by the Universities of Wisconsin, enrollment at UW-Milwaukee’s Washington County campus will fall from 1,054 in the fall of 2020 to just 285 in the fall of 2022. According to the institution’s official website, enrollment is below 350 students.

Meanwhile, enrollment at UW-Oshkosh’s Fond du Lac campus has dropped from 733 in the autumn of 2020 to just 196 in the fall of 2018. The website claims that there are now about 500 students enrolled.

UW-Oshkosh and UW-Milwaukee have satellite campuses within an hour’s drive of the affected areas. About 30 miles southeast of the Washington County campus is a second UW-Milwaukee location in Waukesha County. In addition to its four-year campus located approximately 20 miles north of Fond du Lac, UW-Oshkosh also has a branch campus in Menasha, roughly 35 miles north of Fond du Lac.

Rothman closed UW-Platteville’s Richland Center campus due to declining attendance this summer.

On Tuesday, Rothman announced that he had issued an order to the state’s ten remaining two-year colleges to plan how to re-purpose their campuses. This could include providing four-year degrees, workforce training, or dual-enrollment classes for high school students interested in earning college credit.

The moves are being made as the University of Wisconsin system struggles with falling student numbers. After eight years of decline, the university system saw a rise of 540 students this fall, bringing the total number of enrolled students to 161,322.

Except for UW-Green Bay Manitowoc, UW-Platteville Baraboo, UW-Whitewater, UW-Milwaukee, and UW-Oshkosh-Fond du Lac, enrollment at most branch campuses will be lower in autumn 2023 than in the previous year.