UW to close Washington County, Fond du Lac campuses due to declining enrollment

Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman announced the UW-Milwaukee Washington County and UW-Oshkosh Fond du Lac campuses are closing, with in-person instruction ending by June 2024.

Associated Press

October 17, 2023 • Southeast Region

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An aerial photo shows a series of connected two-and-three story brick building, surrounded by parking lots, lawns, and a wooded area with a water tower, with a divided highway, buildings and trees extending to the horizon under a partly cloudy sky.

An aerial photo shows the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee-Washington County, located in West Bend. On Oct. 17, 2023, Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman announced the closure of two more two-year branch campuses: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Washington County and University of Oshkosh-Fond du Lac by the end of the 2023-24 academic year. (Credit: Courtesy of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Washington County)

AP News

By Todd Richmond, AP

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Two more Universities of Wisconsin two-year branch campuses will close by next year and more shutdowns might be on the way as students continue to opt for four-year colleges and online classes, Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman announced Oct. 17.

Rothman told reporters during a conference call that he has decided to shutter UW-Milwaukee’s Washington County campus and UW-Oshkosh’s Fond du Lac campus. He said that in-person instruction at the two schools will end by June 2024. Enrollment at both schools as well as three other two-year campus has ticked upward this fall, but it’s not enough to offset more than a decade of decreasing enrollment.

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

Enrollment at UW-Milwaukee’s Washington County campus has plummeted from 1,054 students in the fall of 2020 to 285 students in the fall of 2022, according to Universities of Wisconsin data. Fewer than 350 students currently attend the school, according to its website.

UW-Oshkosh’s Fond du Lac campus, meanwhile, has seen its enrollment drop from 733 in the fall of 2020 to just 196 in the fall of 2022. About 500 students currently attend the school, according to its website.

Both UW-Milwaukee and UW-Oshkosh have other branch campuses within an hour’s drive of the schools set to close. UW-Milwaukee has another branch campus in Waukesha County, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) southeast of the Washington County campus. UW-Oshkosh has another branch campus in Menasha, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) north of Fond du Lac, and UW-Oshkosh’s four-year campus lies about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Fond du Lac.

Declining enrollment forced Rothman to close UW-Platteville’s campus in Richland Center in the summer of 2023.

Rothman said Oct. 17 that he has ordered leaders at the state’s remaining 10 two-year schools to start considering how to re-purpose their campuses, perhaps to offer four-year degrees, skill education for workers or dual-enrollment courses for high school students looking to earn college credits early.

The announcements come as the Universities of Wisconsin grapple with declining enrollment statewide. The university system had endured eight straight years of falling enrollment before an uptick in the fall of 2023 by 540 students to 161,322 total.

Most branch campus enrollments are lower for fall 2023 than the previous year, with the exception of increases at UW-Green Bay Manitowoc, UW-Platteville Baraboo Sauk County, UW-Whitewater Rock County, UW-Milwaukee Washington County and UW-Oshkosh Fond du Lac.

Years of declining enrollment coupled with a lack of state aid has left 10 of the university system’s 13 four-year campuses facing a combined $18 million deficit by 2024. UW-Oshkosh has announced plans to lay off almost 150 employees, furlough others and offer others early retirements to close its shortfall.

State Sen. Duey Stroebel, a Republican who represents portions of Washington and Fond du Lac counties, said in a statement that low enrollment isn’t a new trend and it’s not surprising to see several two-year UW schools close.

“Demographic trends and lower student enrollment over the past decade have raised significant doubts about the long-term sustainability of two-year college campuses,” Stroebel said.

The moves leave 10 remaining branch campuses in Barron County, Baraboo, Manitowoc, Marinette, Marshfield, Menasha, Rock County, Sheboygan, Waukesha and Wausau.

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