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UW System celebrates large freshman class, though overall enrollment still declining

UWM's freshman class is up 5% this year, although overall enrollment is down 3%.
Emily Files
UWM's freshman enrollment at its main campus is up 4% this year, although overall enrollment is down 3%.

The UW System is celebrating a strong turnout of new students this school year, even though overall enrollment is still declining.

Initial data show the number of freshmen and new transfer students is at the highest point since 2018. That’s after pandemic-driven declines in freshman enrollment nationwide.

"So we are very pleased that we seem to have started to pull our way out of the pandemic," UW System President Jay Rothman told reporters Thursday. "Never say the pandemic is done totally, but we are excited to see that kind of attendance in the state’s schools. We think that’s important because Wisconsin is in a war for talent, and we do not have enough graduates of four-year institutions, of graduate schools, in our state, to satisfy the needs of employers in Wisconsin."

Overall, the UW System is still losing students. Initial data show a 1% decline this school year.

There is a lot of variation between campuses. Madison, Green Bay and Superior saw enrollment increases and La-Crosse remained stable. But the other nine universities experienced declines, especially in their two-year branch campuses.

UW-Milwaukee enrollment fell by 3% on the main campus and 13% on its branch campuses in Washington County and Waukesha.

>>UWM 'Panther Tour Bus' Hits The Road In Effort To Shore Up Freshman Enrollment

At a July town hall, UWM Chancellor Mark Mone said it was imperative to stem enrollment losses.

"Why that’s so important is that every percent we’re down in enrollment, there’s a $2 million base budget cut," Mone said. "It’s not one-time — it’s a challenge, it’s a liability that keeps on going. In other words, once the incoming class is smaller, it's hard to make that up in future years."

UWM’s freshman enrollment is up this year, by about 4%, according to spokesperson John Schumacher. Leaders say even though freshman numbers are rising, it's still a challenge to retain students year-to-year.

The UW System is hoping to bring in an even bigger freshman class next year, with the launch of the Wisconsin Tuition Promise. It promises free tuition to students with family incomes under $62,000.

Correction: Due to incorrect information provided by the university, this story originally stated that UWM's freshman enrollment increased by 5%.

Editor's note: WUWM is a service UW-Milwaukee.

Emily is an editor and project leader for WUWM.
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