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College enrollment drops again in Wisconsin, but not at Nicolet

Nicolet Area Technical College

Emma Rutlin wants to study psychology at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, but when she graduated high school in 2020, she decided to start pursuing higher education more locally at Nicolet College.

“I couldn’t imagine being in the middle of a pandemic while being away at a university,” she says. “That would be hard, especially with the risk of being sick.”

Rutlin is not the only student who has turned to Nicolet in the face of the pandemic.

Enrollment at the college is up 2 percent since 2019.

That’s in contrast to enrollment at colleges across the state, which is down by more than 8 percent according to fall enrollment data collected by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Nationally, enrollment at public 2-year colleges has dropped even more since the pandemic began – by 14 percent.

Why? Colleges are competing in a market flush with job opportunities, many of which pay well, says Erika Warning-Meyer, Nicolet College’s Vice President of Enrollment and Student Affairs.

“It’s proven, the more education you get, the more likely you are to be employed in a tough economy. We had a tough economy briefly with COVID and it has rebounded,” she says. “But I’d say there are still challenges in our area and that’s what we’re here to do is to help meet those challenges by training students.”

Of Wisconsin Technical Colleges, Nicolet was the only to see an increase in enrollment last year.

Emma Rutlin says she’s noticed her online classes getting more crowded, and she understands why.

“Nicolet College sets you up to give you the same level of university classes, like how hard they are, but you’re able to stay in a small town and you’re able to save money,” she explains.

Rutlin still hopes to transfer to UW – Madison next year.

At that time, she’ll have learned not just the content of her general education classes, but how to be a college student in a pandemic.

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