Eau Claire, Stout among UW campuses seeing enrollment decline

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MILWAUKEE, EAU CLAIRE, MENOMONIE, Wisc. (AP, WEAU) -- A shift in demographics and competition from online and for-profit universities is causing a decline in enrollment at some University of Wisconsin campuses.

UW System spokesman David Giroux says birthrates began to decline in Wisconsin about 17 to 18 years ago, so the university system has anticipated the enrollment declines.

UW-River Falls experienced the biggest drop, with 6 percent fewer students this fall. At UW-Milwaukee, enrollment dropped 2.4 percent and freshman enrollment is down 6.7 percent. The campus has focused on recruiting more international and graduate students.

UW-Whitewater is an exception to the trend. It experienced record enrollment this fall.

Jorden Smith, a senior at Eau Claire Memorial High School said just a couple weeks after he applied to UW Stevens Point, he was accepted and is excited to go there next year.

"Probably one of the best feelings I've ever had, know that I can follow my dream," Smith said.

UW Stevens Point saw a small increase in enrollment this year, but many in the UW System have not.

Both UW Eau Claire and UW Stout saw a decrease of about one percent from last Sept. to this one, saying a large graduating class and changing population sizes are to blame.

"We study the demographic trends on a regular basis, in about three years we expect the high school population to at least begin an upward trend, but it will be a very slight increase," Interim Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs Mary Hopkins-Best said.

Memorial counselor Jane Adler-Corning and students have their own ideas on why the drop may have happened.

"Maybe they don't want to go into a lot of debt, however we still reassure them that it's still the best investment," Adler-Corning said.

"A lot of people if they would start at a two-year or a tech school, they would probably look to transfer to a four-year," Memorial senior and college applicant Logan Nicolet said.

"Kids are being more scared to go to college. They don't think they have good enough grades or not enough money to get into it, and they just don't wanna be shot down," Smith said.

But students and school staff say the goal of going to college is not disappearing.

"I'm not seeing students backing off from that drive," Adler-Corning said.

"Most jobs now do require four years of college and to get a good degree, you need to go to college," Smith said.

Hopkins-Best said UW Stout won't lower its admissions standards just to bring in more students and instead are recruiting more transfer and international students.

The UW System Board of Regents is set to talk about the trend starting Thursday at UW Stout.

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