After years of record enrollments, UW-Whitewater last month saw an overall drop in students, according to preliminary fall 2017 figures.

A smaller freshman class primarily accounts for the enrollment dropping. The university recorded 2,220 freshman in 2016. The preliminary number counted on the 10th day of class this year was 2,014.

The total enrollment last year was 12,628. This year it was 12,366, although final enrollment numbers will not come out until early November. The university shares preliminary numbers in September then updates with official counts after the sixth week of classes.

Before this fall, UW-W had record enrollment seven times in eight years.

Assistant Vice Chancellor for Enrollment and Retention Matt Aschenbrener gave a few reasons why he thought UW-W saw a smaller freshman class.

He said there were fewer high-school graduates in Milwaukee this year and that competition for recruiting in Illinois was competitive.

After seeing a smaller number of applications, Aschenbrener said the university was not surprised to see enrollment drop.

In response, he said UW-W has changed some areas of recruitment, such as updating the website and doing more on-campus programs for prospective students. He said the university is increasing communications with schools in Illinois and elsewhere to make sure more people know about UW-W and its programs.

Aschenbrener also said focusing on retention of current students can steady enrollment. The freshman-to-sophomore retention rate for 2016-17 reported last month was 77.9 percent. This is down from 81.6 percent as reported last fall.

Not every program saw a drop this year. There are 30 more graduate students enrolled in fall 2017 than in 2016.

UW-W has seen growth in two programs with high school students, Aschenbrener said. In the Youth Options program, students take classes at the university, while Partners in Education has properly credentialed teachers running university courses in high schools.

The future of enrollment at UW-W could be in the air as the UW System Board of Regents considers a proposal to have the state’s four-year colleges absorb two-year campuses. In the proposal, UW-W would absorb UW-Rock County.

Aschenbrener said the move would affect them, but he added it would bring new opportunities for UW-W to work with UW-Rock County and the students who enroll there.

“I think it’s an exciting opportunity,” he said.

The Board of Regents will meet in November and could approve the plan then.

Undergraduate students had been the primary cause of growth, rising from 9,231 in 2006 to 11,380 in 2016. The preliminary 2017 numbers show 11,088 undergrads.

“We hope to continue to grow,” Aschenbrener said. “We’re doing well as an institution, so I think that’s always good.”

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