Dec. 1—EAU CLAIRE — Enrollment declined again this fall at UW-Eau Claire and UW-Stout, a pattern that's also continuing across the UW System and nationwide.
UW-Eau Claire's main campus has a headcount of 10,064 students this fall, a 4% drop since last fall's headcount of 10,503.
UW-Stout's fall 2021 headcount also dropped by about 3%, going from 7,970 last fall to 7,692 this fall, said Laura King, vice chancellor for enrollment and strategic initiatives.
Both universities saw larger enrollment declines than the UW System as a whole. Across the system, enrollment lessened by about 1% from fall 2020 to fall 2021. It was an overall drop of 1,786 students, the system announced in early November. (About 41% of that decrease happened at the UW System's two-year branch campuses.)
The enrollment decline is appearing across the country.
Nationally, college enrollment appears to be running about 2.6% below last fall's levels — meaning a nearly 6% drop in enrollment since 2019, according to the National Student Clearinghouse research center.
The COVID-19 pandemic appears to still be throwing a wrench into students' college decisions.
In a statement this month, UW System President Tommy Thompson said the pandemic has "increased our enrollment challenges," but he added that he's pleased with the system's increase in freshmen. (The UW System said this month that it has seen a nearly 4% boost in freshmen enrolled this fall.)
Administrators at UW-Eau Claire and UW-Stout said they'd anticipated another decline in enrollment this year.
This summer the UW System predicted UW-Eau Claire would see a more substantial decrease in enrollment, but after a bump in student registrations, the university surpassed that prediction, said Billy Felz, interim vice chancellor for enrollment management.
UW-Stout's enrollment is "in alignment with what we anticipated," King said in an email Tuesday. "We are pleased that the decrease was relatively low compared to trends we are seeing with other universities in the region and nationally."
Despite both universities' drop in students, Felz and King said they're seeing signs pointing to a rebound this spring.
"I've been using the words 'cautiously optimistic' when looking at the next year," Felz said Tuesday. "We're seeing our students register for the spring semester in very similar (numbers) to pre-COVID ... that's a good sign."
Enrollment applications and housing contracts for UW-Eau Claire's upcoming semester are also getting closer to pre-pandemic levels, he said.
Regarding UW-Stout, King said, "We are pleased that we are seeing a strong spring enrollment that outpaces enrollment numbers that we experienced at this time last year."
Over the last decade, UW-Eau Claire's highest enrollment was in 2012, when it had a headcount of 10,961 students, according to university data. It reached 10,811 students in 2018, and enrollment has dropped since then.
UW-Stout's most recent six-year enrollment high was the fall of 2016, when it had 9,619 students, or 17% higher than this fall's total.