December 4, 2023

🔒 Survival 101: Schools adapt amid shrinking pool of highschool grads

When Cardinal Stritch College president Dan Scholz sat down on April 12 to report a particular message for the campus neighborhood, few might have fathomed what was coming.

Dealing with stark fiscal realities – together with a downward enrollment development that noticed the establishment’s undergraduate headcount plummet from a excessive of three,026 college students in 2011 to a low of 755 within the fall of 2022 – Scholz knowledgeable college students and workers that the college’s board of trustees had really helpful the 86-year-old Catholic establishment stop operations on the shut of the spring semester.

“We’re all devastated by this growth,” Scholz stated of the choice, which left greater than 800 college students looking for one other faculty to complete their diploma and 476 individuals of of a job. “I want there was a distinct path we might pursue.”

Whereas the information got here as a shock to many, these accustomed to the financial and demographic challenges going through greater training in America had been dismayed however not stunned.

Practically 100 schools nationwide have both closed or merged since 2016 or plan to shut throughout the subsequent two or three years, the majority of them smaller, non-public four-year faculties within the Midwest and Northeast, in line with knowledge from Increased Ed Dive, which retains a working checklist of current faculty closures.

Cardinal Stritch is one in every of two faculties in Wisconsin to shut lately – Holy Household School in Manitowoc shuttered in 2020 – however a number of different small non-public faculties within the state have additionally seen enrollment decline lately. Publicly funded state establishments have additionally struggled.

Not too long ago, the College of Wisconsin-Platteville Richland, a two-year satellite tv for pc campus that ready college students to switch to a four-year faculty, despatched its rural neighborhood reeling when it introduced this spring that it could be shuttering its doorways in Might within the face of dwindling enrollments and monetary challenges.

In the meantime, 11 of the College of Wisconsin System’s 13 four-year campuses are projected to have a mixed deficit of $58.5 million as they enter the 2023-‘24 faculty yr – the results of enrollment declines and state finances cuts. At UW-Oshkosh, which faces a finances deficit of $18 million, college leaders have introduced plans to put off 200 non-faculty workers and directors this fall.

The less-than-rosy outlook comes as faculties are scuffling with demographic shifts which have resulted in fewer highschool graduates. The dip in beginning charges has hit schools within the Midwest and Northeast the toughest, the place beginning charges are a few of the lowest within the nation, in line with current knowledge from the Facilities for Illness Management.

Whereas schools at the moment are confronted with a much smaller pool of conventional college students, these college students – and their mother and father – are going through a few of the highest tuition charges in a long time, particularly at what had been as soon as thought-about inexpensive public universities. The common value of in-state annual tuition at a four-year public college has elevated by 179% prior to now 20 years within the U.S., in line with the Training Knowledge Initiative.

To place that in perspective, annual in-state tuition at a UW System faculty was $3,791 in 2000. In 1970, it was simply $508. Below the 4.1% tuition enhance permitted by the UW Board of Regents for the 2023-‘24 tutorial yr – a rise that adopted a 10-year, system-wide tuition freeze – annual, in-state tuition and costs at UW-Milwaukee is $10,020. UW-Madison’s is barely greater at $11,215.

As grim as these statistics could seem, many schools in southeastern Wisconsin are bucking current downward enrollment developments, not by delivery college students in from abroad – though out-of-state recruitment is being boosted – however by working to draw and help college students of all ages and backgrounds.

Twin-enrollment college students work in a producing lab at Waukesha County Technical School.
Credit score: WCTC

All arms on deck

On a current weekday morning, leaders of 4 Milwaukee-area establishments gathered in a convention room at Paul Davis Restoration in Pewaukee to share how they’re collaborating with one another – regardless of the hurdles going through greater ed – to graduate the sorts of expert employees companies and the neighborhood want.

Addressing members of the Larger Brookfield Chamber of Commerce, which organized the occasion, Mark Mone, chancellor of UW-Milwaukee, highlighted the significance of collaboration over competitors, particularly given the area’s workforce wants.

“The world of labor wants so many alternative (ability units) proper now, and we don’t have one powerhouse establishment right here that’s so massive that it may do all of it, and even when we did that wouldn’t be the precise strategy as a result of there are such a lot of nice qualities that every of our establishments has,” Mone stated.

The audio system on the occasion, which additionally included Waukesha County Technical School president Richard Barnhouse, Carroll College president Cindy Gnadinger and Milwaukee Faculty of Engineering president John Walz, are all members of the Increased Training Regional Alliance. Comprised of the 17 universities and technical schools in southeastern Wisconsin, HERA is a community that enables establishments to work with one another and different neighborhood and financial growth companions to assist meet the wants of scholars, employers and the neighborhood at massive.

As leaders shared tales of what’s taking place at their faculties, the significance of partnerships was clear – partnerships with the enterprise neighborhood, with native excessive faculties, with nonprofits and with one another.

These partnerships have been particularly useful because the pool of highschool graduates continues to shrink and as increasingly more potential faculty college students have mother and father who didn’t attend faculty themselves and should face cultural and monetary challenges because of this.

Partnerships key

Along with dual-enrollment packages that permit highschool college students to take faculty programs, Waukesha County Technical School has labored with Waukesha County excessive faculties to develop the Excelerate program. Launched final yr, the initiative permits highschool juniors and seniors to take lessons at WCTC for credit towards each their highschool diploma and an affiliate diploma or technical diploma, for gratis. Native faculty districts pay for his or her college students to attend WCTC.

“They will nonetheless take part in highschool athletics and homecoming and all these issues at their highschool, however they get their first two years of school free of charge,” Barnhouse stated.

The scholars can then switch to a four-year establishment, or they will keep proper on WCTC’s campus and put these faculty credit towards a bachelor’s diploma from Lakeland College.

Lakeland’s fundamental campus is positioned in rural Sheboygan County. It just lately moved its Milwaukee Heart campus from an workplace constructing on town’s west facet to WCTC’s fundamental campus in Pewaukee. Now generally known as the Lakeland College Waukesha County Heart, the college started accepting college students at its new location this fall, providing greater than a dozen diploma packages, together with accounting, enterprise and communications.

Barnhouse is hopeful that the transfer will assist guarantee extra WCTC college students go on to earn bachelor’s levels in high-demand fields.

WCTC additionally works carefully with native corporations like Eaton and Generac to develop, oversee and replace its technical packages. And it’s been working with UW-Milwaukee to create a liberal arts switch pathway to make sure its new common training choices will simply switch to the college. Technical schools throughout Wisconsin just lately obtained permission from the state to start providing liberal arts programs. Beforehand, solely the UW System’s two- and four-year campuses might try this.

The packages and partnerships have contributed to a rise in enrollment for the 100-year-old technical faculty. WCTC noticed enrollment for the 2023-‘24 tutorial yr develop by 11% over final yr. Extra importantly, the school has seen its complete headcount enhance by practically 3.5% from 18,024 in 2022-‘23 to 18,650 in 2023-‘24.

Barnhouse says such partnerships – whether or not it’s the liberal arts pathway work with UW-Milwaukee or its electrical engineering switch settlement with MSOE – are maybe extra crucial to the four-year universities than they’re to WCTC.

“It’s necessary for us, however not important,” he stated. “If I had been a four-year establishment, I’d be pondering, ‘The place are my feeders?’ as a result of there aren’t sufficient college students in highschool.”

Understanding the buyer

A lot of the educational adjustments at WCTC have been in response to the rapidly altering technological panorama, stated Barnhouse – take, for instance, its rising diploma packages in synthetic intelligence. However the faculty additionally has its eye on the buyer, which incorporates professionals seeking to upskill, youthful working college students and the ever-practical Gen Z highschool graduate.

“We now have a really, very savvy client in Gen Z. This can be a technology that could be very pragmatic. They’re not threat takers,” Barnhouse stated. “The coed coming in now desires a profession and doesn’t need a number of debt. They need what’s referred to as a ‘skinny faculty expertise.’”

But it surely’s not simply technical schools which might be shifting rapidly to alter diploma packages and tutorial choices.

Most of the area’s non-public establishments, particularly smaller faculties like Carthage and Alverno schools, have added new packages or restructured credentialling lately to draw college students.

Mount Mary College, which noticed its graduate and undergraduate headcount shrink by roughly 6% between 2021-‘22 and 2022-‘23, can be making adjustments. It introduced final month that it was restructuring its tutorial programming to be organized round three core areas: the Faculty of Arts & Sciences, the Faculty of Nursing, and the Faculty of Graduate Well being & Skilled Packages.

The shift, workers defined, comes because the college pivots towards embedding science, know-how, reflection, artwork, engineering and math (STREAM) curriculum into its course choices.

Whereas Cardinal Stritch noticed its undergraduate enrollment figures drop precipitously over the previous decade, different non-public establishments within the area have managed to maintain enrollment ranges comparatively regular lately, partly by remaining nimble and adjusting to satisfy client demand.

Carthage School, which has seen a gradual enhance in enrollment lately, simply introduced a $100 million fundraising marketing campaign to assist broaden its scope past the normal four-year instructional mannequin by creating two-year affiliate levels.

The funds are additionally slated to offer further entry to monetary support for tuition, internships and examine overseas packages whereas supporting the enlargement of packages in nursing, pre-health, engineering, enterprise and different high-demand fields.

John Swallow

Carthage School president John Swallow stated the college, which by no means supplied two-year levels prior to now, determined so as to add the choice to higher serve part-time college students.

“We wish to be accessible to college students who really feel the necessity to work and take one or two programs at a time. In the event that they’re doing that with us, and we solely provide a bachelor’s diploma, it may appear to be it’s going to take a really very long time to finish a program. But when we’re providing an affiliate diploma, it’s smaller chunks to chunk off, which is extra motivating,” Swallow stated.

Though most college students on the 176-year-old Lutheran faculty attend faculty full time, Swallow stated the establishment is making an attempt to stretch in new instructions so it may attain extra college students.

“We’re making an attempt to interrupt out of strictures – these conventional boundaries of upper training – to achieve extra individuals and fulfill their wants,” he added.

Enrollment in Carthage’s new Faculty of Enterprise and Economics is up, Swallow stated, as is participation in its new engineering program. The college’s musical theater program can be rising, partly as a result of it’s a main not supplied at many different Midwest establishments. The school additionally just lately added a Grasp of Music Theatre Vocal Pedagogy program.

“You would possibly say that’s terribly area of interest. Yeah, nicely it’s. However college students come right here from all over the world to do it,” stated Swallow.

To additional stem shrinking undergraduate enrollment, the area’s non-public establishments are additionally stepping up their recruitment efforts exterior the Midwest.

Michael Lovell

Marquette College just lately expanded its “fly-in program,” which covers airfare and resort lodging for potential college students and their mother and father to go to Milwaukee and tour the campus, because it continues to capitalize on tertiary markets in Colorado, Arizona and Washington state. This yr it is going to additionally start placing full-time recruiters in these states. If that proves profitable, Marquette president Mike Lovell stated the college plans to place recruiters in different states with bigger percentages of college-age people, like North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.

“Probably the most necessary facets of our enrollment technique is definitely simply getting college students on campus,” Lovell stated. “One in three college students that come right here for a tour enroll right here.”

In the meantime, Carroll College, which has seen undergraduate enrollment dip lately, falling to 2,771 in 2022, is beefing up its recruitment efforts in Puerto Rico, the place it as soon as had a robust market, stated president Cindy Gnadinger.

Fall enrollment at southeastern Wisconsin schools and universities




Change from 2012 to 2022

Cardinal Stritch College





Moraine Park Technical School





Alverno School





Milwaukee Space Technical School





Waukesha County Technical School





Mount Mary College





College of Wisconsin-Milwaukee





College of Wisconsin-Parkside





Carthage School





Carroll College





College of Wisconsin-Whitewater





Marquette College





Milwaukee Faculty of Engineering





Gateway Technical School





Milwaukee Institute of Artwork & Design





Chart represents newest knowledge from the U.S. Division of Training. Technical schools sometimes provide rolling enrollment and provide alternate figures to measure their enrollment development.


Again to highschool

Because the area’s establishments look to broaden their market attain, they’re additionally more and more targeted on working adults, providing smaller badging and credentialing packages. Carroll, as an example, has developed a number of graduate certificates packages in enterprise and training. And MSOE has been steadily rising its certificates choices, which incorporates the undergraduate AI for Rising Purposes Certificates, and graduate certificates in utilized machine studying and “superior enterprise technique utilizing AI and analytics.”

And, though their futures may be in query, UW-Milwaukee’s two-year campuses in Washington and Waukesha counties have strong persevering with education schemes that supply a mixture of enrichment programs and badges in software program packages. The technical schools have been providing certificates for years.

The HERA web site contains a “micro-credential catalog,” the place potential college students and employers can seek for such upskilling alternatives.

Colleges are additionally boosting efforts to assist working adults return to highschool to complete their bachelor’s levels.

“It’s very uncommon for a scholar to start out at one tutorial establishment and end 4 years later,” stated Mone. That’s very true at campuses in city environments, like UW-Milwaukee, the place college students typically expertise what Mone calls “off ramps” that make them depart faculty earlier than graduating.

“Life occurs. I turn into unemployed or I get married, or I’ve a child, or frankly, I don’t have the cash as a result of faculty has gotten costly. So, I step out for a yr or two. And typically that yr or two turns into 5 or 10 years,” stated Mone.

UW-Milwaukee is anticipating it is going to see round 400 “second likelihood” undergraduates return to highschool this yr.

Alverno School’s asynchronous Speed up program permits working adults to complete their bachelor’s levels by finishing experiential studying modules, or ELMs, as an alternative of extra conventional coursework.

Though practically each faculty within the area – and nation for that matter – provides a bevy of on-line diploma packages, Alverno says its program is exclusive as a result of college students can map out a schedule that works for them. 

“College students graduate in as rapidly as three years, however we’ve additionally taken college students who’ve 110 credit and simply want 10 extra to complete,” stated Kate Lundeen, vice chairman of enrollment and advertising and marketing. “They arrive by this system actually engaged on issues that they may be engaged on of their skilled life or of their volunteer service.”

Students and their parents wheel carts through a parking garage at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on move-in day in August.
College students and their mother and father wheel carts by a parking storage on the College of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on move-in day in August.
Credit score: UW-Milwaukee

Supporting college students

Alverno and different establishments additionally acknowledge the necessity to attain extra Black, Hispanic and first-generation faculty college students – demographics that proceed to make up a rising share of highschool college students within the state in addition to a large portion of Wisconsin’s younger workforce. The median age of a white particular person in southeastern Wisconsin is 36, whereas the median ages for Black and Hispanic people are about 28 and 26 years outdated, respectively, in line with knowledge from the Wisconsin Division of Well being Providers.

Closing faculty attendance and commencement gaps amongst Black and Hispanic college students has been a mission typically mentioned in each secondary and better training communities within the area, and never only for equality functions. If universities, and the employers they serve, are to stay solvent, they’ll want younger individuals of all demographics to pursue levels. 

At UW-Milwaukee, the place enrollment has dropped about 22% since reaching a current high-water mark of 27,012 in 2018, the Moon Shot for Fairness program has been one effort to shut these gaps. A partnership with Carthage School, MATC and UW-Parkside, the trouble goals at utilizing data-driven approaches to make sure college students of coloration graduate on the similar price as white college students by 2030. Different efforts to shut the leaky pipeline from highschool to school commencement embrace M³ (pronounced M-cubed) and All-In Milwaukee.

Boosting support has additionally been an enormous a part of the image, as lots of the area’s most various populations additionally are usually the poorest. At UW-Milwaukee and MATC, new “promise” packages pledge to cowl any tuition prices not lined by Pell grants or Stafford loans for households making $62,000 a yr or much less. Carthage has an identical program referred to as the Carthage Dedication.

At MATC, the Checota Scholarship program, which can be utilized to cowl residing bills akin to meals, little one care and transportation, has been particularly useful in getting lower-income college students by diploma and certificates packages rapidly and with out debt.

Philanthropists Ellen and Joe Checota created this system in 2022 with a $5 million pledge as a two-for-one matching present, stating they might donate $1 million for each $500,000 the MATC Basis raises from different benefactors, making the full-funded present price $7.5 million.

In line with current figures from MATC, the pledge has to this point resulted within the technical faculty accumulating $4.6 million from the Checotas and different donors – cash that has to this point helped 372 college students keep in class and 158 graduate.

At Marquette College, {dollars} are more and more going to efforts to assist help Black and Hispanic college students. Its Mi Casa es Tu Casa program focuses on supporting the mother and father of Hispanic college students, particularly these whose first language is Spanish. And the college just lately expanded its City Students program, which offers free tuition to low-income, first-generation faculty college students who present tutorial advantage. This system has helped the college entice extra Black college students from the Milwaukee space.

MSOE, which has struggled to draw ladies, is creating new sports activities packages and services for ladies sports activities in hopes of drawing feminine athletes to the college.

And at Alverno, the Thea Bowman Institute for Excellence and Management was just lately established to offer full-tuition scholarships to Black undergraduate college students “looking for skilled roles in pursuit of social change and repair.”

A’Ajanae Bowie
A’Ajanae Bowie

For sophomore A’Ajanae Bowie, being a part of the Thea Bowman Institute has helped develop a confidence and perception in her skills that was first sparked as a freshman in highschool when she met her counselor, an Alverno alum.

“I simply noticed how glowing and assured she was in herself,” Bowie remembers. “And I used to be like, ‘Wow, Alverno did that for you? Can it do it for me?’”

In the present day, the 19-year-old Barack Obama Faculty of Profession and Technical Training class of 2022 valedictorian is trying ahead to a profession in well being care administration, which she will use to assist individuals in her neighborhood and past.

“I do know oftentimes I see the place individuals sort of separate themselves from others and attempt to simply give attention to the individuals inside their circle,” Bowie stated. “However I don’t wish to try this. I would like to have the ability to department out and make connections.”