by Steve Prestegard
UW–Platteville’s Richland campus in Richland Center will no longer have “in-person degree instructional programs” for freshmen and sophomores after this academic year,
A memo from UW System president Jay Rothman to interim UWP chancellor Tammy Evetovich, released to the news media Nov. 22, directs Evetovich to create a plan by Jan. 15 to shift students to either the main UWP campus or the UWP Baraboo/Sauk County campus by the start of the 2023–24 academic year July 1.
The Richland campus is not slated to close, but will instead offer “enrichment programs, online reskilling and upskilling courses for adult learners and online degree completion courses at campus facilities,” according to Rothman’s letter.
“I know the university has undertaken good-faith efforts to stabilize enrollment, but those efforts have not stemmed the continuing enrollment decline,” wrote Rothman. “While the University of Wisconsin System remains committed to the branch campuses and to providing as broad of access for students as possible, there comes a time when financial pressure and low enrollment makes in-person degree-level academic instruction no longer tenable.”
Rothman wrote that the plan “should include consideration of reasonable arrangements for all of our current Richland degree-seeking students,” including “offering Richland tuition levels to students transferring to UW–Platteville or another System campus.” The letter says the plan should also “address faculty and staff.”
Rothman wrote that the focus of the new Richland-campus programming should be “on maintaining a sustainable presence at the Richland campus that meets regional needs.”
The Richland campus’ enrollment, which was 400 students eight years ago, dropped by 18 percent to 65 students during this academic year. UW–Platteville’s enrollment dropped 5 percent this academic year, although first-year-student enrollment increased from last academic year.
The Richland County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution in August asking UW–Platteville to consider returning a full-time recruiting specialist to the Richland campus instead of recruiting for all three campuses on the UWP campus.
Richland County Sup. Shaun Murphy-Lopez said that arrangement led to speculation that UWP was steering students to its main campus instead of the Richland campus.
“Why can’t UW–Platteville return a full-time recruiter to the UW–Richland campus?” he said. “There’s a need.”
Richland County Board Chairman Marty Brewer said Richland County has a significant investment in the university, including its 140-acre plot of land for which the university has a lease for the next 20 years. The Richland campus is on U.S. 14 west of Richland Center next to Richland Center High School.
With advancements in education and distance learning students at UW–Richland can complete a bachelor’s degree through UW–Platteville with minimal transportation. Tuition at UW–Richland for in-state students costs $5,600 per year while the same tuition costs $7,900 per year at UW–Platteville.
“We have facilities such as the gymnasium, library and Coppertop Theater – are taxpayers getting their money’s worth?” said Brewer. “The land the campus has on its perpetual lease is very, very valuable.”
The enrollment issue dovetailed with other Richland County issues, such as decreasing school enrollment and county finances, that were brought up at a forum with then-UW System president Tommy Thompson and then-UW–Platteville chancellor Dennis Shields in late February.
During that forum Evetovich, who then was the UWP provost, said that the main campus and its two-year campuses were competing for the same students due to their geographic proximity.
Richland Center Mayor Todd Coppernoll said at the forum he would like to see Southwest Wisconsin Technical College bring vocational classes to the Richland campus for such employers as Schreiber Foods and Foremost Dairies.
UW–Extension started operating centers for freshmen and sophomores in 1940. After World War II counties and municipalities donated land for UW two-year campuses. The UW Centers were created in the UW System merger in 1971, with the name changed to UW Colleges in 1997.
The Richland and Baraboo/Sauk County campuses shifted to UW–Platteville control in 2018 when the state eliminated the UW Colleges system and assigned all two-year colleges to a nearby four-year campus.
Matt Johnson of Johnson Media Labs contributed to this story.