To follow up on the previous post, I looked at population projections for the area served by UW-Stevens Point (UWSP). Again, demographic shifts are one of the key justification for the dramatic restructuring of this campus. From the UWSP press release, “This repositioning is necessary because of declining financial resources, demographic changes with fewer students in K-12 schools and rising competition among public and private universities.”
As with Cross’s use of demographics for the restructuring, the media has echoed this perspective. Examples here (“Shifting demographics in which there are fewer high school graduates looking to enter college”), here (“Enrollment falls at several UW System campuses this fall as state’s demographics shift”), and here (“Shifts in high school graduation numbers, population growth possible causes”). Press releases from UW System, UWSP, and similar reporting have successfully created a narrative that declining numbers of high school graduates justify the dramatic changes.
So, let’s have a look at the data.
First, UW-Stevens Point has been presented as a regional campus serving a local community of central and northern Wisconsin. Examples from press release, “UW-Stevens Point can move forward with…renewed capacity to improve our service to the students and communities of central and northern Wisconsin, which are complex, diverse and ever changing.” And, from the Point Forward plan, “Eliminating some majors while simultaneously investing in other new and expanded majors will strengthen our ability to meet student and regional needs.”
What is UWSP’s “region?”
Data from their 2015 Factbook provide enrollment by county in the state. Mapped, it looks like this:
Viewed geographically, the “region” served by UWSP isn’t as clear and certainly highlights the number of students coming from eastern and south central Wisconsin. UWSP appears to draw from a mix of urban and rural counties in the state and defies a simple delineation regional delineation.
Let’s take one approach to assess demographic trends. If we look at the top seven counties that the campus serves (as of the 2015 data), we get (in rank order): Portage, Marathon, Wood, Outagamie, Dane, Milwaukee, and Brown Counties.
So, what are the demographic trends in these counties?
The UW-Madison Applied Population Lab’s projections mentioned in the previous post also provide county-level projections. Overall, these data project a 7.3% increase in the available number of high school graduates within these seven counties. Here’s a graph of the trend (and link to the source data):
Again, these data undermine both the justification for the dramatic restructuring of UWSP and the perceptions of what constitutes UWSP’s “region” that they serve.
Given how easy it is to find and compile this data, I wonder how sincere UW System and USWP administration are in trying to truly understand the challenges our campuses face and what constitutes viable options moving forward. Currently, they seem to be more more grounded in ideology than fact.