Lawmakers call UW regional campus decisions unfortunate, unsurprising

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(The Center Square) – Few at the Wisconsin capital is happy about the University of Wisconsin’s decision to end in-person classes at two regional campuses, though they are not shocked.

University president Jay Rothman announced the university will end face-to-face classes at UW-Milwaukee Washington County and UW Oshkosh Fond du Lac.

“It’s time for us to realign our branch campuses to current market realities and prepare for the future. The status quo is not sustainable,” Rothman said in a statement. “This decision is a response to an evolving student marketplace. Offering students an educational experience they deserve while working with local leaders to ensure it meets their expectations is key to our long-term success.”

Rothman also announced the UW Platteville Richland campus will close permanently. He announced the end of in-person classes there last spring.

“This reassessment is designed to ensure facilities are used in ways that meet community needs and provide long-term stability,” Rothman said.

Sen. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield, said the decision to end in-person classes at the Washington County campus is unfortunate, but unsurprising.

““The realities of a declining population, remote learning, alternative career paths and severe workforce shortages require rethinking how we deliver higher education and career readiness on a statewide basis,” Hutton said. “I commend UW leadership for taking these difficult, but necessary, first steps in reducing our physical footprint for those two-year campuses facing significant enrollment declines.”

There are less than 300 students at the Washington County and Fond du Lac campuses and enrollment has been falling for years.

Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Cedarburg, said the University of Wisconsin is going to have to figure out how to reverse its falling enrollment numbers to stay competitive.

“Low and declining enrollment isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s not surprising several two-year UW campuses will be closing their doors this year,” Stroebel said. “Demographic trends and lower student enrollment over the past decade have raised significant doubts about the long-term sustainability of two-year college campuses. Some two-year campuses have seen enrollment fall by nearly 70%.”

There are currently 13 UW Regional campuses, along with 13 4-year campuses. Rothman said the majority of UW schools will be running a deficit by the end of this school year. He has not yet said just how the university system will deal with those deficits.

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