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March 27, 2023 5:52 pm

Local News

Wisconsin College Enrollment Decreases by Over 3 Percent

Credit: iStock

Parker Wallis

According to preliminary data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, enrollment in Wisconsin colleges and universities saw an overall drop by about 3 percent this fall. 

The “Stay Informed” report from Clearinghouse shows that as of September 29th, enrollment in Wisconsin was down 3.1 percent compared to the same time period last year. The decline the year before came in at 4.1 percent, and since 2020, college enrollment has fallen by about 7.8 percent.

Executive Research Director Doug Shapiro of Clearinghouse reported that colleges in the Midwestern and Northeastern United States saw larger dips in enrollment compared to the national average. The number of students enrolled in college across the country decreased by 1.1 percent, which is verified by preliminary fall data from the University of Wisconsin System, calculating an average decline of about 1 percent across Wisconsin’s 13 branch campuses and 13 universities. 

In comparison to the rest of the Upper Midwest, Iowa and Illinois enrollment dropped by approximately 1 percent, and Michigan experienced a 4 percent decline this fall. 

“That kind of suggests a return to pre-pandemic patterns of essentially demographic trends where we had been seeing some declines based on fewer high school graduates in the Midwest and the Northeast,” said Shapiro. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, national college enrollment dropped by 3.2 percent. University of Wisconsin (UW), meanwhile, fell by only 2 percent in the same period. Shapiro, however, hesitates to call the recent smaller declines a recovery. 

“We’re seeing smaller declines,” said Shapiro. “But when you’re in a deep hole, the fact that you’re only digging a tiny bit further is not really good news.”

In the case of UW-Madison, this year’s freshman class of over 8,600 students is the largest in the school’s history, up from last year’s number by almost 2 percent. 

According to the school’s Board of Regents enrollment policy, UW-Madison each year must enroll a combined minimum of 5,200 new undergraduate students from three groups: Wisconsin students, Minnesota reciprocity students paying in-state tuition, and transfer students from both states. For the calendar year 2022, they exceeded their goal at 5,635 newly enrolled students. 

Additionally, UW-Madison offers scholarships to Wisconsin residents with a household income of $60,000 or less. Through a program called Bucky’s Tuition Promise, Wisconsin students can receive scholarships and grants to cover tuition and segregated fees. UW-Madison also offers a Mercile J. Lee Scholarship, which supports talented and outstanding students from underrepresented groups, granting full tuition and a $400 book stipend per semester. 

“One of the things that has most impressed me about UW–Madison is its commitment to affordability and accessibility, especially for our home state students,” said Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin. 

“We are continuing to see an increase in demand for an education at UW–Madison, which is a testament to the outstanding education and student experience offered here,” according to Provost Karl Scholz. He adds, “This robust interest will help ensure that Wisconsin’s flagship university remains a key driver of economic advancement for state students and an essential provider of skilled workers for Wisconsin employers.”

Other Wisconsin schools may need to adopt similar programs and policies to bump up their enrollment numbers, especially for Wisconsin high school graduates, whose numbers have been stagnating for a long while.