UW System overall enrollment down but number of new students up

MADISON, Wis. – More new people signed up for college in the UW System this fall than in the past three years, but overall enrollment is down.

New preliminary data released this week by the UW System shows statewide there is an overall one percent drop in enrollment from 2021 to 2022 with nine schools seeing a drop between three and six percent.

Of the 13 UW System schools, only three — UW-Madison, UW-Green Bay and UW Superior — added more students this fall.

UW System President Jay Rothman said the pandemic is a big reason why, but universities are starting to recover. He said incoming freshman and transfer student enrollment is back to pre-pandemic levels.

“We’re delighted with this because we know that Wisconsin is in a war for talent,” Rothman said. “If UW student graduates don’t fill those jobs a lot of those are going to go elsewhere. They are going to move outside the state and Wisconsin will not prosper as it should.”

To keep that momentum going, Rothman said they are focusing on high-demand fields, boosting dual enrollment among high schoolers, which he said saw great success at UW Green Bay, and targeting adult learners.

He estimates there are between 600,000 and 800,000 adult learners in the state of Wisconsin who never graduated that the system still hopes to reach.

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System leaders also said they expect new student enrollment to continue to increase as they launch the Wisconsin Tuition Promise, which would ensure families making less than $62,000 per year could attend a UW school without paying tuition or fees.

That initiative is set to be in place throughout all UW schools by the fall of 2023.

Tyler Kastner, a college and career coordinator with the Madison Metropolitan School District, said he sees some students taking up apprenticeships but not an overwhelming amount.

“Students are still choosing two- and four-year colleges the most,” he said. “(That’s) still kind of the standard… most students operate on.”