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Communities That Lost Two-Year Branches of the UW-System Eligible for Grants

Wednesday, July 10th, 2024 -- 8:00 AM

(Joe Schulz, Wisconsin Public Radio) Communities that have lost a two-year Universities of Wisconsin branch campus will be eligible for up to $2 million in grants.

According to Joe Schulz with Wisconsin Public Radio,the state Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved releasing $20 million to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation for a grant program to assist communities in redeveloping shuttered campuses.

Six two-year campuses in the Universities of Wisconsin system are closed or have announced closures due to declining enrollment and budget shortfalls. The closings are affecting communities in Outagamie, Fond du Lac, Washington, Richland, Marinette and Waukesha counties.

The grants can be used by cities, towns, villages or counties for redevelopment costs including planning and demolition expenses, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

The grants may also be used for projects on former campuses that help create jobs, develop the local workforce, support small businesses or boost housing, according to the fiscal bureau.

The law funding the assistance to communities requires WEDC to award grants to Fond du Lac, Washington, Marinette and Richland counties, as long as they satisfy the requirements, the Fiscal Bureau said.

The money had been essentially in limbo since March, when Gov. Tony Evers signed a bipartisan bill into law setting those funds aside for communities affected by branch campus closures.

In May, Evers and WEDC asked the Legislature to release the funding, calling it “critically important” for communities to find new life for shuttered campuses. Evers also called on the Legislature to increase investment in the state university system to prevent further layoffs and closures.

Now that the funding has been released, WEDC Secretary Missy Hughes said the agency hopes to open grant applications by Aug. 1. “We realize that communities are looking for these funds and we want to get the ball rolling as quickly as we can,” she said.

Hughes also said releasing the funds gives the state an opportunity to support communities that are seeing “major changes” as a result of campus closures. She said local officials are not only worried about the buildings and properties, but they have additional challenges from the loss of students.

“We want to invest in these communities to make sure they have some resources to move through this change,” she said. The Joint Finance Committee vote came just days before the first meeting of a state Legislative Council Study Committee on the Future of the University of Wisconsin System.

The committee will examine demographic trends affecting state colleges and evaluate university needs.

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