The University of Wisconsin System is one of the largest systems of public higher education in the country, serving more than 170,000 students each year and employing approximately 39,000 faculty and staff statewide.
The UW System is made up of 13 four-year universities and 13 two-year branch campuses affiliated with seven of the four-year institutions. On July 1, 2018, the former UW-Extension joined with UW-Madison and UW System Administration. Together, these institutions are a tremendous academic, cultural, and economic resource for Wisconsin, the nation, and the world.
UW System at a Glance
Enrollment: More than 170,000
Institutions: 13 four-year universities, 13 two-year branch campuses
Annual Budget: $6 billion
State Funding: $1 billion
Gifts, Grants and Contracts: $1.5 billion
Economic Impact: $15+ billion annually
Degrees Awarded: More than 36,000 annually
Merger of Two Systems of Higher Education
The University of Wisconsin System was created on October 11, 1971, by Chapter 100, Laws of 1971, which combined the two public university systems of the state under a single board of regents. The 1971 legislature set July 1, 1973, as the final date for completion of the merger, but the 1973 Assembly Bill 930, drafted with the help of a Merger Implementation Study Committee to achieve that objective, did not pass in the assembly until the spring session of 1974 and died for lack of senate action when the regular session ended. The bill passed both houses, as Senate Bill 2, in the special session in May 1974 and became law on July 9, 1974. The bill combined the former Chapter 36 (former University of Wisconsin) and Chapter 37 (former Wisconsin State Universities) to create a new Chapter 36 (University of Wisconsin System) of the Wisconsin Statutes.
Former University of Wisconsin
The pre-merger University of Wisconsin was created by the state constitution and state law in 1848. At the time of merger in 1971, it consisted of the original land-grant university at Madison (1849); the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (merged in 1956); UW-Green Bay (1968) and UW-Parkside (1968) plus 10 freshman-sophomore centers (now colleges) and statewide Extension. Total 1971 enrollment was 69,554. Governance was by The Regents of the University of Wisconsin, a board of 10 members, nine appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate for nine-year terms, the tenth being the state superintendent of public instruction who served ex-officio on both the UW and WSU boards.
Former Wisconsin State Universities
The Wisconsin State Universities system had its origins in an 1857 state law creating the Board of Regents of Normal Schools. The first of nine such institutions was opened at Platteville in 1866 and the last at Eau Claire in 1916. In 1927, the normal schools received authority to grant baccalaureate degrees in education and were renamed State Teachers Colleges. With the addition of liberal arts programs in 1951, they became Wisconsin State Colleges. (As a side note, UW-Stout was founded as a private institution in 1893. It was governed by a separate Board of Trustees from 1911, when it became a state institution, until 1955 when it was designated part of the Wisconsin State Colleges System.) In 1964, the Wisconsin State Colleges were designated Wisconsin State Universities. At the time of merger in 1971, the board had 14 members, including the state superintendent of public instruction and 13 citizens appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate for five-year terms. The WSU system, then governed by the board, consisted of the nine universities and four freshman-sophomore branch campuses (now colleges) and had a total enrollment of 64,148.
The University of Wisconsin System
The 1971 merger law was approved after long debate by a margin of one vote in the senate. It combined the two systems under a single Board of Regents, creating a system with 13 universities, 14 (now 13) freshman-sophomore centers (now colleges), and statewide extension with offices in all 72 counties. The freshman-sophomore center at Medford was closed in 1981 by state law. Each university is named “University of Wisconsin-” followed by the location or name. Each two-year college is named “University of Wisconsin-” followed by the city and/or county in which it is located.