MADISON (WKOW) -- Just before Thanksgiving, the CDC released a report that said the number of births in the U.S. dropped for the fourth year in a row -- and the fertility rate hit a record low in 2018.
That drop in birth rate will have consequences in the future, which the University of Wisconsin System is preparing for now. UW wants to double its online student body by 2025, focusing programs and curriculum on older students.
"It's birth rates entirely," said Marie Cini, President of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning and an expert on innovative education. "Since 2000, it's been declining. It really began declining more precipitously in 2008 right around the recession."
Projections from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education show a big spike in U.S. high school graduates in 2025, followed by a sharp decline afterwards -- right at the time children born just before and during the recession turn 18.
"It's not that they're doing poorly, it's just a population trend," said Aaron Brower, the executive director of UW Extended Campus.
Brower says it's not yet time to tear down campus buildings, but it is time to recognize what the future holds.
"This is one of the suite of things UW provides," he said. "It's not for everybody, but for many people, this is exactly what's needed."
Brower says online programs open higher education for everyone -- especially working adults -- a group UW needs to enroll because the number of freshmen arriving on campus will soon be dropping.
The plan to double online enrollment will be presented at this week's Board of Regents meeting at UW-Whitewater.
The online classes are taught by regular UW professors, and the degrees are from those campuses.