Courtesy of UW Madison
Joseph Canning |firstname.lastname@example.org
UW-Parkside had its largest freshman enrollment in five years as reported in the October 6th article written for the Ranger News; however, the school stands out as the exception in the UW system: total enrollment in the system has fallen compared to the previous year.
Where students are leaving
The enrollment drop is affecting over half of the total schools that make up the extensive UW system. Of those schools, the two-year colleges have been the hardest hit, especially those in the North of the state. All of these community colleges experienced a 7.5% drop in enrollment. The single school that had the steepest decline in enrollment was UW-Steven’s Point with a 5.4% drop.
This drop in enrollment is not unprecedented. In fact, it is merely a continuation of an unfortunate downward trend in two-year college enrollment in Wisconsin that has been present for several years. The decline in total enrollment has persisted for more than a decade.
Why the decline?
The primary reason for the consistently faltering enrollment seems to be Wisconsin’s falling birth rate. Birth rates have been declining particularly in the North where community colleges have been hardest hit.
Wisconsin has long had birth rates lower than the country’s average but rates in the state have not risen since 2007 excepting a .1 per 1000 person increase in 2014 according to the Wisconsin Department of Health services.
In 2000 Wisconsin had a birth rate of 12.9 per 1000 people, but that had dropped to only 11.6 by 2015.
How UW schools are reacting
Lower enrollment universally means lower income for Wisconsin schools. This loss in revenue is yet another major kick to the UW system that has been struggling for years to make all of its many campuses lucrative.
In an article written in 2016 about the previous year’s drop in enrollment written for the Wisconsin Public Radio, the loss of revenue was reckoned at $5 million. It is unclear how much money Wisconsin colleges could lose this year, but since the enrollment losses were not quite as steep as the previous year, losses should not be so severe.
Even so, some schools are being forced to react against waning enrollments. UW-Marathon County and UW-Marshfield have chosen to drastically increase the number of courses taught online as well as transferring some professors to schools that have a greater demand.
Some drastic proposals have been made to counter the losses generated by two-year colleges, namely a suggestion by UW system president Ray Cross, made on October 11, to merge two-year schools with four-year universities. In the proposal, he acknowledged the uncertainty of the plans’ effects, but he urged reform and was confident it would “provide more educational opportunities for more students, while ensuring our faculty are appropriately organized and supported.”
The future remains uncertain for the UW system, but falling enrollment is likely to bring sweeping changes sooner rather than later.