UW-Whitewater has seen another 4% decline in enrollment, but the man who was the university’s interim chancellor at the time said during a virtual town hall Thursday that the figure was still “very good news” considering the pandemic.
The tone around a 4% decline was much darker in a January announcement about last school year, when that figure was reported alongside the intent to make millions of dollars in base budget cuts over two years.
Declining enrollment was listed as the main factor that would necessitate budget cuts and layoffs. The pandemic has not helped the university’s budget situation, either.
But during a town hall event with university and city officials from Whitewater, then-Interim Chancellor Greg Cook said “many national and local experts” in the spring said COVID-19 could lead to college enrollment declines of 20% or 25%.
Before the pandemic, he said, the university was expecting about a 2% decline this school year, as well.
“So the fact that we were only a couple percentage points down in addition to what we already anticipated previously, I think is very good news,” he said.
Exact enrollment figures were not available Thursday night. But Cook said enrollment at the Whitewater campus was down about 500 students and 90 students at the Rock County campus, according to the figures they collect during the 10th day of classes.
Final enrollment figures are also reported later in the semester.
This is the fourth year in a row that UW-Whitewater has seen declining enrollment at its main campus after several years of increases and record highs.
Cook said enrollment going down only 4% in this climate “shows the confidence that the students, the parents and the people in the region have in the university and also in the city—in Janesville and here in Whitewater.
“So overall, I’m pleased with those numbers.”
Also during Thursday’s event, university and city officials were feeling better about mask-wearing and social distancing in the city when compared to the beginning of the fall semester.
Whitewater Police Chief Aaron Raap said since Aug. 1 his department has received six or seven complaints about mask compliance during the city and state’s mandate period. But only three of those resulted in warnings for first-offense violations, while he said the others were unfounded.
“As far as anecdotal information and observations by officers, we’re very happy to report that citizens, the vast majority of students, and business owners, operators and employees are compliant with the requirement of the city ordinance and the state order,” Raap said.
The city’s police chief also said they have not been seeing as many large gatherings. Police did receive word of a potential “very large” gathering about two weeks ago, but he said they intervened ahead of time to stop it from happening.University and city officials in previous weeks have expressed concern about the student population’s adherence to requirements or guidelines.
But at Thursday’s meeting, the tone was more appreciative for what officials said was better compliance to the health and safety rules.
UW-Whitewater this week has accounted for 15 students who tested positive for COVID-19, according to the university dashboard. Two employees have tested positive this week, as well.
That many employees tested positive during all of last week, along with 50 students.
In total since March, 390 students and 13 employees have tested positive.
Walworth County, which is one of the counties Whitewater is in, has tallied 2,645 positive cases and 35 deaths during the pandemic. Five patients are currently hospitalized.
Cook said the university’s positivity rate is declining. They have increased testing after previously limiting it mostly to symptomatic students and those who were in close contact with positive cases, he said.
This week, he said, the university started testing off-campus students more, too.
Other news that came out of Thursday’s meeting included:
City Manager Cameron Clapper said the pandemic has cost the city $290,000 on supplies and wage hours dedicated to coronavirus issues. Some refunds could come but likely not for the wage hours, he added.
Cook said the university is hoping to have a decision in the next few weeks about what to do with spring break. UW-Madison has already moved to cancel its spring break to limit virus spread with all the associated travel.