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

Two more UW branch campuses will end in-person instruction, including Washington County

UWM at Washington County's enrollment has fallen from 744 in 2018 to just under 300.
UWM Photo Services
UWM Photo Services
UWM at Washington County's enrollment has fallen from 744 in 2018 to just under 300.

There is more bad news for the UW System’s branch campuses.

System President Jay Rothman announced Tuesday two campuses will end in-person instruction next spring: UW-Milwaukee’s Washington County campus in West Bend and UW-Oshkosh’s Fond Du Lac campus. 

This follows the closing of UW-Platteville’s Richland County campus earlier this year. And it comes at a time when the UW System’s state funding has been cut.

The UW System’s 12 branch campuses offer two-year associate degrees and transfer pathways to four-year schools. They cost less and have smaller class sizes than four-year UW schools.

But their future has been in jeopardy due to steep enrollment declines. Rothman says, in-person instruction will end at the Washington County and Fond Du Lac campuses because of that reality.

"The market is telling us that the mission of the two-year branch campuses is not as attractive to students as it once was," Rothman told reporters.

The UW System closed the Richland County campus last year, after enrollment dropped to 60 students.

In November, System President Jay Rothman ordered UW-Platteville to end in-person classes next year at its Richland Center campus. Enrollment at the two-year college fell from 567 students in 2014 to just 60 this semester.

Enrollment at Washington County this semester is just under 300 students and Fond Du Lac has about 250 students. Enrollment at each campus has fallen by more than 50% since 2018, when two-year campuses were merged with four-year universities.

Washington County alum Adriana Marquardt says her classes often had just four or five students. She graduated from Washington County in 2022.

"My last two semesters, looking around my classroom at the 5 of us there, I asked, how much longer do you think we have here?" Marquardt said.

Marquardt wasn’t surprised to hear that Washington County is closing. But the news is still hard to take, because she had such a positive experience there.

"A lot of these professors, because we have these smaller class sizes, they’re able to get to know us more than just than surface level," Marquardt said. "They’re mentors for us and they help direct us and realize our strengths that we have that we normally wouldn’t see. And I’m just going to miss it because without Washington County I wouldn’t be in the major I’m in right now."

Marquardt is now a senior at UWM’s main campus studying kinesiology. As a Hartford native, she chose Washington County for her first two years of college because she initially didn’t know what she wanted to study, and because it was cheaper. Now she worries about what students like her will do.

The future of Washington County's campus has been a topic of debate for the past year. Washington County Executive Josh Schoemann recommended merging the school with Moraine Park Technical College.

A UWM task force on Washington County recommended the school be integrated into UWM.

UWM spokesperson Angelica Duria says advisors will work with Washington County’s current students to find pathways forward.

"To help them either complete their degree or transfer to a school of their choice, either UWM at Waukesha, UWM’s main campus in Milwaukee or another school of their choice," Duria said.

What will happen to Washington County campus employees is up in the air. They’re part of UWM’s College of General Studies, which serves both the Washington County and Waukesha branch campuses. The Waukesha branch campus will continue to have in-person classes and programs.

The College of General Studies will be dissolved, and absorbed into UWM’s larger colleges. Duria says that means faculty and staff could be hired to work at the Milwaukee and Waukesha campuses.

Duria says as the Washington County campus winds down operations, UWM plans to increase collaboration with the technical college in West Bend.

"UWM is partnering with Moraine Park Technical College to determine how to expand access, maintain access to higher education in Washington County," Duria said.

Washington County Executive Shoemann released a statement saying, in part: "I remain wholly committed to keeping students first as we work through this transition, fighting to keep higher education opportunities in our community for the students of today and the future.”

There could more changes coming for branch campuses. UW System President Rothman has directed chancellors to discuss the future of the two-year schools with the counties in which they’re located.

UWM is posting information about the Washington County campus closure here.

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


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