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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

Financial challenges are plaguing the UW System. Oshkosh is the first to announce major layoffs

University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.
Patrick Flood
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh in winter.

The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh announced Thursday that it’s cutting back operations, due to an $18 million structural deficit.

UWO plans to furlough employees and cut staff by about 15%, laying off or accepting retirements from about 200 people.

Chancellor Andrew Leavitt told reporters that due to declining enrollment and tuition funding, UWO has spent most of its reserves. It now has no choice but to cut.

"Our approach faces reality head-on, reorganizing and reducing our payroll and expenses while shielding classrooms and student experiences to the fullest extent possible," he said.

Leavitt said UWO will lay off administrators and staff, but not any faculty, and it won’t eliminate academic programs yet.

UWO’s enrollment has dropped 11% since 2019. Most Wisconsin schools are grappling with enrollment declines and resulting drops in revenue. Cardinal Stritch, a private Milwaukee university, closed this year because of similar challenges. And the UW System closed one of its two-year campuses, UW-Richland.

UW System President Jay Rothman said flat state funding is also contributing to the steep financial challenges.

"It is counterintuitive, that at a time when we need more graduates to fill the jobs created by Wisconsin employers, we are instead having to reduce our investment in education," Rothman said. "But that is our reality. These are choices that none of us want to make, but we have a fiduciary responsibility to act."

UWO is the first school to announce widespread layoffs. But most other UW schools are also contending with structural deficits. Rothman said each will take a different path to financial sustainability.


Emily is WUWM's education reporter and a news editor.
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