For at least the fifth straight year, enrollment is sharply down at the UW-Marathon County campus, a trend seen at nearly all two-year UW schools statewide.
Final numbers won’t be tallied until after Sept. 19, but the total enrollment for UWMC as of Sept. 5 is 799 registered students. That’s down 17% from the same date in fall 2015, says Mya Starling, director of institutional research at University of Wisconsin Colleges.
Statewide, the decline hovers at around 13% for the two-year schools compared to last year. Most four-year UW schools are at or near the same level as last year, though UW-Stevens Point enrollment has dipped by about 8%, according to preliminary figures.
Record-low high school graduation levels (because of demographics) combined with fierce competition among all higher education students is contributing to the decline, says Brian Becker, regional director of communication for UW Colleges.
While troubling, the numbers are hardly surprising, says UW Colleges Chancellor Cathy Sandeen. The UW-Madison Applied Population Lab, which forecasts population shifts, projected a 6.3% drop in Wisconsin high school graduates from 2010 to 2015, followed by a recovery close to the 2010 level by 2020.
“This has been a long-term trend, but we feel we are at the bottom of that decline,” says Sandeen, who was appointed in October 2014 to her position overseeing the state’s 13 two-year and online campuses.
To combat the dwindling numbers, school officials are ramping up marketing efforts and shifting their recruitment focus to entice more nontraditional students to enroll. Nontraditional students—those who attend college part-time, work full-time and are financially independent—represent about 15% of UW Colleges’ enrollment, while nationwide that number nears 70%.
“We need to do a better job of showing potential students that we are often the most affordable option,” Sandeen says.
Meanwhile, smaller campuses will continue to offer as many courses as possible, sometimes combining classrooms at multiple campuses through videoconferencing.
“At UWMC, while we offering fewer math and English sections because demand has diminished, we have no plans to cut classes and faculty,” Becker says.