UW System President Ray Cross announces he will propose merging UW Colleges with four-year UW institutions as part of a broader restructuring of UW Colleges and UW-Extension.  There are currently 13 two-year UW Colleges campuses located statewide.  Under his proposal, Cross will propose integrating UW Colleges campuses into UW four-year institutions, effective July 1, 2018.  Cross will also propose assigning divisions within UW-Extension to UW-Madison and UW System Administration.  The restructuring proposal will come before the Board of Regents in November seeking approval to proceed with implementation planning.

“Change often produces uncertainty, but we cannot be afraid to pursue needed reforms.  We must restructure these two organizations given the state’s demographic challenges, budgetary constraints, and the need for closer alignment between research and practice,” said President Cross.  “We want to leverage the strength of our four-year institutions at a time when overall enrollments at UW Colleges are declining.  Our goal is to expand access and provide more educational opportunities for more students, while ensuring our faculty are appropriately organized and supported.  We are committed to making the transition as smooth as possible for students, faculty, and staff.”

“The dramatic demographic declines in this state are undeniable and we have been working hard to ensure the future viability and sustainability of our small campuses. I am optimistic about the potential of this new structure to keep student access and student success at the forefront,” said Cathy Sandeen, Chancellor for UW Colleges and Extension.  “Our team has been enacting major change and transformation efforts for the past three years so we’re well positioned to help lead a smooth transition upon Board approval. Our goal is to ensure the successful future for these campuses because we need more doors open wider to more people in this state than ever before.”

Restructuring Objectives

  • Maintaining and expanding access to higher education by offering more general education and upper-level courses at the integrated branch campuses
  • Identify and reduce barriers to transferring credits within the UW System
  • Maintain affordability by continuing current tuition levels at the branch campuses post-merger for general education courses
  • Further standardize and regionalize administrative operations and services to more efficiently use resources
  • Leverage resources and shared talent at our institutions to get more students into and through the educational pipeline, better aligning the university to meet Wisconsin’s projected workforce needs

The proposed restructuring will allow the UW System to better address current and projected enrollment and financial challenges at the two-year institutions, while maintaining the important UW presence in local communities.  Business and community leaders stressed the important economic and cultural role UW institutions play in their regions when providing feedback for the UW System’s 2020FWD strategic framework.

Demographic trends indicate that current enrollment challenges are not likely to significantly improve in coming years.

“By 2040, nearly 95% of total population growth in Wisconsin will be age 65 and older, while those of working age 18-64 will increase a mere 0.4%.  Our labor force growth will be flat, while the demand for an educated labor force is growing exponentially,” said Cross.  “We must plan for the future now and be increasingly bold in our efforts to get more students through the educational pipeline to help meet Wisconsin’s needs. We must do this by improving access to higher education and keeping it affordable for students and families.”

This proposal will help avoid closing any UW Colleges’ campus while maintaining a university presence in these Wisconsin communities. UW Colleges Online will move to UW System Administration under the Continuing Education, Outreach and E-learning (CEOEL) umbrella.



Effective July 1, 2018

UW Colleges Campus UW Four-Year Institution
UW-Barron County UW-Eau Claire



UW-Green Bay


UW-Washington County


UW-Fond du Lac

UW-Fox Valley

UW-Baraboo/Sauk County


UW-Marathon County

UW-Marshfield/Wood County

UW-Stevens Point
UW-Rock County UW-Whitewater


Under the proposed plan, UW-Extension Cooperative Extension (including Wisconsin 4-H) and the UW-Extension Conference Centers, would be moved to the state’s land grant institution, UW-Madison. The integration of Cooperative Extension and Conference Centers with the state’s land-grant institution is consistent with the practice in other states, including Illinois, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.  It will also provide more opportunities to connect the important practical work of extension agents with the research enterprise at UW-Madison.

Other divisions of UW-Extension would be integrated within UW System Administration to continue their statewide role:

  • Division of Business and Entrepreneurship (DBE)
  • Broadcasting and Media Innovations (BAMI) including Wisconsin Public Television and Wisconsin Public Radio
  • Continuing Education, Outreach and E-learning (CEOEL) including UW Flexible Option

Effective July 1, 2018

UW-Extension Cooperative Extension

UW-Extension Conference Centers

Business and Entrepreneurship Division

Broadcasting and Media Innovations (BAMI) including Wisconsin Public Television and Wisconsin Public Radio

Continuing Education, Outreach and E-learning (CEOEL) including UW Flexible Option

UW System Administration

2010 Census vs. 2040 Projections

Age Number of People Growth
0-17 + 27,438 + 2.1%
18-64 + 15,150 + 0.4%
65-84 + 598,121 + 90.8%
85 and older + 168,205 + 141.9%
By 2040:  94.7% of total population growth will be age 65 and older.

Source:  UW-Milwaukee


  2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 Preliminary Fall 2017 Enrollment Change 2010-17 Percent Change 2010-17
UW-Baraboo/Sauk County 466.1 493.7 462.5 444.8 426.7 393.4 386.8 327.9 -138 -30%
UW-Barron County 484.0 490.7 461.2 415.3 403.3 360.3 303.9 315.1 -169 -35%
UW-Fond du Lac 651.0 607.9 564.1 555.7 493.0 451.4 406.7 431.1 -220 -34%
UW-Fox Valley 1,380.9 1,354.2 1,359.2 1,341.5 1,277.1 1,169.3 1,014.1 947.7 -433 -31%
UW-Manitowoc 517.1 553.9 486.1 430.4 364.0 370.3 290.3 250.7 -266 -52%
UW-Marathon County 1,114.7 1,076.7 1,001.8 967.7 803.7 680.6 601.8 547.5 -567 -51%
UW-Marinette 335.3 318.5 332.7 335.1 336.3 307.3 196.2 191.7 -144 -43%
UW-Marshfield/Wood Cnty 534.3 500.5 446.5 450.1 408.3 382.6 319.1 281.0 -253 -47%
UW-Richland 386.1 392.7 410.1 401.9 377.6 325.3 203.4 202.5 -184 -48%
UW-Rock County 919.0 966.5 957.9 893.1 832.9 821.3 743.2 661.3 -258 -28%
UW-Sheboygan 639.3 649.5 599.5 539.7 529.5 503.1 416.5 371.5 -268 -42%
UW-Washington County 851.2 793.9 741.9 765.5 727.5 662.5 578.0 545.9 -305 -36%
UW-Waukesha 1,680.3 1,650.6 1,554.4 1,570.6 1,588.3 1,479.5 1,308.0 1,199.2 -481 -29%
UW Colleges Online 446.7 527.1 569.0 606.3 768.7 795.6 851.3 839.5 393 88%
UW Colleges Total 10,406.1 10,376.3 9,946.8 9,717.5 9,336.6 8,702.7 7,619.4 7,112.6 -3,293 -32%
Source:  UW System Office of Policy Analysis and Research  


Media Contact

Stephanie Marquis UW System (608) 263-1700 universityrelations@uwsa.edu