Students and community members are fighting the end of classes on the longstanding college campus

A group of Richland Center students and community members are trying to prevent the end of face-to-face classes on their college campus next summer. The group filed a 1,400-signature petition urging University of Wisconsin System President Jay Rothman, state legislators and Gov. Tony Evers to find a way to save UW-Platteville Richland.

The students and some Richland County officials traveled to Madison Thursday to present Rothman with the petition and credentials during the December meeting of the UW System Board of Regents.

Rothman announced on November 22 that in-person classes for students pursuing a degree would end by July 1.

The group claims that staff cuts and shrinking budgets have contributed to campus enrollment declines. In a statement, they said the campus budget had been cut by 55 percent since 2012, resulting in the loss of a dean, most professors, an international coordinator and a campus recruiter.

Former UW system president Ray Cross announced in 2017 a massive overhaul of state colleges and universities. Regents approved the plan, which merged two-year colleges with nearby four-year universities to cope with the significant drop in enrollment. With the merger, the Richland campus became an extension of UW-Platteville, which is an hour south.

In 2014, there were 567 students at UW-Richland. When the restructuring was announced, it was down to 273, down nearly 48 percent. Enrollment rose slightly to 366 students in 2018 but fell to 60 this fall, down more than 83 percent.

The Richland students and county officials’ statement called on Rothman to “consider moving oversight of UW-Richland from UW-Platteville to UW-Madison.”

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“The growing enrollment at Wisconsin’s flagship campus provides an opportunity to train rural and international students who can complete their first two years at UW-Richland and then transfer to a larger campus such as UW-Madison,” it said it in the press release.

Brody Smith is a freshman at UW-Platteville Richland who plans to transfer to UW-Whitewater after the spring semester ends in May. He was part of the group who met privately with Rothman on Thursday.

“We got our message across by telling him things that could have been done differently, things that we really appreciate about Richland,” Smith said.

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Richland County Executive Vice President Shaun Murphy-Lopez was also part of the Richland Center delegation. He told Wisconsin Public Radio the community “will not give up this campus.”

Murphy-Lopez said during their meeting that Rothman spoke about the enrollment challenges facing two-year colleges across the country, but he believes the sharp declines at his community’s campuses over the past decade show that “in Richland something completely different happened”.

In comments to the Regents, Rothman said he appreciates the group’s passion and dedication, but with only 60 students on campus, he has few options.

“Looking ahead, we are poised to provide a UW presence on the Richland campus that may include online retraining and continuing education instruction for adult learners, as well as online graduation courses,” Rothman said.

WPR asked Murphy-Lopez if he was happy with this potential future for the campus, which has been a part of the community for more than 55 years.

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“If that’s their offer on the table, we need to continue negotiating,” Murphy-Lopez said.

While UW-Platteville Richland saw the largest enrollment declines, all 13 former two-year colleges in the state saw enrollment decline 57 percent, or about 7,400 students, between 2010 and fall 2021.

Rothman said the UW system monitors enrollment trends at some of the two-year campuses.

“However, we will work to ensure that these critical entry points across the state continue to innovate to provide the education and services that Wisconsini residents rely on,” Rothman said.

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