The coronavirus pandemic and college enrollments

St. Norbert College
Posted at 11:23 AM, Jul 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-29 19:29:54-04

NORTHEAST WISCONSIN (NBC 26) -- It's an unprecedented situation for colleges in Northeast Wisconsin.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, universities are adjusting both the on-campus experience and their enrollments projections.

We talked with leaders at three different colleges: Fox Valley Technical College, a two-year public school; St. Norbert College, a private school; and UW-Oshkosh, a public school in the state system.

Officials at FVTC said they're seeing an enrollment surge and likely will have their highest headcount in four years.

“We’re close to home for many students who may or may not have planned to go away to a four year school," Dr. Jennifer Lanter, FVTC dean of general studies, said. “Others just not wanting to be put in that dorm environment where they’re unsure about the pandemic.”

Elsewhere, leaders at St. Norbert College and UW-Oshkosh said they prepared for a smaller than usual incoming class. Brian Bruess, the president of St. Norbert College, said the school is likely looking at about 500 incoming freshman. He said that's down from prior years, and cited the economic factors of the pandemic as a primary reason.

“That’s a really strong response in the face of a pandemic, and right now we’re tracking three to five percent ahead of our revised budget, so we feel like we’re in a really strong position right now," Bruess said.

Officials at UW-Oshkosh said they had prepared for a possible enrollment drop of 10 to 15 percent. It's now looking like it will only be a few percentage points.

“We’re prepared to withstand the potential effects of these scenarios, and that really helps us to feel a sense of security as far as attending to our students needs as much as possible and continuing on with our mission,” UW-Oshkosh Assistant Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management Aggie Hanni said. "There’s so many shifts still, so we’re looking at how our incoming class is building, and what the effect on the continuing students is."

All schools will have a different on-campus experience in fall. Hanni said students at UW-Oshkosh want more of the traditional college experience. This fall, the college will continue to offer a majority of classes in-person, but students can go virtual without penalty.

“So it’s really focused on a lot of flexibility for students to have kind of the best of both worlds, being in class as well as having that safety net of being able to transition online at any time really," Hanni said.

At St. Norbert College, Bruess said classrooms will be more distanced and residence hall capacity will be lowered.

Fox Valley Technical College will reduce the amount of people in a classroom, lowering class sizes down to sometimes just nine students. The college is also offering more virtual options.