UW-Madison freshmen enrollment drops, just as planned

Total UW System enrollment is up for the first time since 2014.
The number of freshmen who enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this fall plummeted since last year.
Published: Sep. 14, 2023 at 12:27 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – The number of freshmen who enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this fall plummeted since last year – and university officials say that was all by design. The number of first-year students at the University of Wisconsin System’s fell by 7.8 percent, newly released numbers show.

That drop pushed the total number of new freshmen enrollment into the black, with UW System recording a very slight 0.3 drop in the new year. In its statement that accompanied the announcement, the university system highlighted that by excluding the Madison drop, overall enrollment jumped by three percent.

According to the UW System, the decision to reduce the size of its incoming class at UW-Madison came after they realized last year’s total number of freshmen was actually higher than expected. In fact, even with the year-over-year decline, total enrollment in Madison was higher than last fall, crossing the 50,000-mark.

Two other campuses, La Crosse and Superior, also saw a decline in first year students, while the rest saw increases.

“Today’s enrollment announcement shows a continuing rebound of new freshman students making college plans for their future,” UW System President Jay Rothman said in a statement. “This is a great sign for all of Wisconsin because freshman enrollment is a leading indicator of future enrollment.”

When it comes to overall attendance, the story flips with only three campuses joining Madison in seeing growth, although for most of them the swing was less than two percentage points. Add it all up, and the UW System enrollment rose by 0.3 percent, or 540 students. It’s the first time since 2014 that enrollment has increased.

“We are the state’s largest talent generator, and our universi􀆟es in every part of the state will con􀆟nue to focus on student success,” Rothman continued, describing the universities under his purview as accessible and affordable, “and the benefits for the individuals, communities, and the state are undeniable.”

The figures released Thursday are based on the total number of students who registered on the first day and further projections, the statement noted. After the tenth day of classes another survey will be conducted that is in line with the standard measurement and is what will be reported to the U.S. Dept. of Education.

The Political Battle

The numbers come at a time when UW continues to fight with the Republican-controlled Legislature over funding and GOP opposition to diversity, equity and inclusion programs. Legislative leaders have also yet to implement a pay raise for UW and state employees that was approved as part of the state budget.

On Wednesday, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos renewed his criticism of UW during an interview with WisconsinEye.

FILE - Wisconsin's Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos talks to the media after Gov. Tony...
FILE - Wisconsin's Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos talks to the media after Gov. Tony Evers' State of the State speech at the state Capitol, Feb. 15, 2022, in Madison, Wis.(Andy Manis | AP Photo/Andy Manis, File)

“What do they always say if you’re an alcoholic?” Vos said. “The first thing is you have to admit you have a problem and realize that you need to solve it yourself before other people can help you. I feel that’s where the UW System is.”

UW System President Jay Rothman said on a conference call with reporters that he continued to work with Vos and legislative leaders and remained confident that the university would make a compelling case to receive additional funding.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers called a special session for next week to increase funding for UW, but Republican legislative leaders say they won’t do it.

UW campuses are also under financial stress, with UW-Oshkosh announcing in July it would be laying off workers, issuing furloughs and taking other steps to deal with an $18 million budget shortfall. UW-Platteville and UW-Parkside are also both facing budget shortfalls and considering furloughs and other cuts.

The Associated Press’ Scott Bauer contributed to this report.

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