UW-Whitewater is exploring the idea of adding a daily commuter bus to and from the Milwaukee metro area.
Earlier this month, UW-W Police Chief Matt Kiederlen sent out a survey to those who hold a commuter permit, which is mostly a student audience. But he emphasized they are only gauging interest at this point.
He said they looked at campus interest about a decade ago, but they did not find enough. Recently, however, he said the question has been popping up again.
The inquiry comes at a time when increasing enrollment has been a top priority for the university. After years of consecutive increases, the university in recent years has seen decreases.
UW-W Chancellor Dwight Watson in a news release Sept. 20 said last year’s record-high senior class graduating meant the university’s overall enrollment “is somewhat lower now than in previous years.”
Early figures for the entire UW System this school year point to a 2.6% decline from last year, according to a system news release last week.
In an interview before the school year, Watson said declining enrollment was the biggest issue facing UW-W.
His plan to address it came down to recruiting more diverse and nontraditional students, and Milwaukee could be one place to do that.
You might see him walking through campus at night. If you’re in his office, you might see a lot of masks. Dwight Watson, UW-Whitewater’s new chancellor, knows he might not fit in—but that’s kind of the point.
Kiederlen said a commuter bus could help boost enrollment by making UW-W an option for some students around Milwaukee who had not considered it before. It also could help students already attending the university by easing parking congestion.
“There’s a number of potential benefits,” he said. “But it all has to be weighed against interests to costs, of course, to see if it would truly be beneficial.”
The four-question survey asked:
- Would you be interested in a commuter bus to and from the Milwaukee area, likely traversing the Interstate 94, Highway 164 to Highway 59 route, on a daily basis?
- What time would you want the bus to arrive on campus?
- What time would you want the bus to leave campus?
- What do you feel would be a fair cost for one, round trip ticket?
The options for the cost question were $5-$10, $10-$15, $15-$20, $20-$25 or $25-$30.
At this time, Kiederlen said, Milwaukee is the only place for which they’re looking at adding a mass transit option. The university already has private buses that come to Whitewater for trips to Madison, other campuses and Milwaukee—but those are not of the same commuter variety.
UW-Whitewater said 73 students live in dorms on the Whitewater campus and attend classes on the Rock County campus. Students said the free shuttle service saves them money and lets them be with friends.
There is also a shuttle service that runs between the campuses in Whitewater and Rock County.
He said he will leave the survey open until about the Thanksgiving break. If there is a strong student response, he will reach out to more staff and faculty.
“If we find that we have several hundred people that might legitimately be interested, well, then it’s OK, now we do need to take a look at this,” he said.
“Then you start weighing out the financial aspect and just seeing if this could actually cover itself or not.”
If UW-W were to implement a plan to bring a daily commuter bus to campus, he said it is “very unlikely” something the campus would see this academic year.