The University of Wisconsin-Marathon County (UWMC) is a two-year university, located in Wausau, WI, the seat of Marathon County. It offers freshman-sophomore education in the liberal arts and preprofessional fields (University of Wisconsin-Marathon County, n.d.-b). The current version of UW-Marathon County was established in 1997 with the creation of the UW Colleges, of which UWMC is a member.

The history of the University of Marathon County is not limited to the single insitution. Educational services have been provided in Wausau since 1933 with the creation of the UW-Extension Division. Throughout the years, the services and educational programs offered in Wausau have changed, but the goal of providing high quality education to the local community has not. To look at the history of UW-Marathon County, you cannot look at the institution of UW-Marathon County alone. UW-Marathon County's services have, no matter the name, been through a collaboration of educators throughout the state of Wisconsin. In other words, The Wisconsin Idea.

(The Wisconsin Idea Logo, 2015)

The Wisconsin Idea is the philosophy that efficient government required control of institutions by the voters rather than special interests. Government that is invested in law, economics, and social and natural sciences would produce the most effective form of government (Wisconsin Historical Society, n.d.). For education, this meant that any resources the university acquired through research needed to be made available to all citizens of the state.

In 1905, University of Wisconsin President Charles Van Hise declared that he would "never be content until the beneficent influence of the university reaches every family of the state" (University of Wisconsin-Madison, n.d.). To fulfill this goal, President Hise began his idea of extending the university to every part of the state.

(University of Wisconsin-Madison President Charles Van Hise, n.d.)
(University of Wisconsin-Extention Logo, n.d.)

President Hise's first implementation of the Wisconsin Idea was the creation of UW-Extension Division. He proposed the plan with Wisconsin Governor Robert LaFollette in 1906 and to create the Extension-Division in 1907. The goal of this program was to "extend the resources of the University to serve the needs of the Wisconsin people" (University of Wisconsin Extension, n.d.). The University of Wisconsin had research and resources that needed to be made available to all citizens of Wisconsin. To encourage spreading the wealth of knowledge to everyone, the extension would provide educational programs that addressed the relevant social, economic, environmental, and cultural issues of its citizens (University of Wisconsin Extension, n.d.).

The idea of extension had been going on before the actual creation of Extension. In 1885, the Farmers' Institutes was created, through the College of Agriculture at UW-Madison. The purpose of this Institution was to provide farmers with training on agricultural and business services. Within 20 years of the Institutes, Wisconsin went from a single-grain state to a leader in dairy farming. In addition 38 cooperative creameries were started around Beaver Dam by people who had attended the Institute (University of Wisconsin Extension, n.d.).

The first UW-Extension Division Center was established in Milwaukee, WI. UW-Madison courses were taught, on-site, by UW-Madison professors. Eventually, the idea to open other centers throughout the state began to be discussed more seriously. With the country in the midst of the Great Depression, high school principals knew the future was bleak for their graduates. According to Bower (2002), "providing further educational opportunities would both reduce the youths' idleness and maintain their morale" (p. 23).

It wasn't until 1933 that UW-Madison's General Extension Division first opened six Freshman Extension Center programs throughout the state. Bower (2002) stated that "each Freshman Center was a lean operation which offered just two to four courses per semester, depending upon the number of students and their needs" (p. 24).

One of the first six centers that was opened was in Wausau, WI. Classes were held in the old Central School, in downtown Wausau. In 1934, the Extension office was able to offer a full freshman program when it contracted with the County Normal School to hold classes there. Through the years, the number of students at the Wausau Extension Division grew, so much so that they were able to offer sophomore classes in 1947. The University of Wisconsin Wausau Center was one of the first two-year campuses in state (University of Wisconsin-Marathon County, n.d.-a)

(Robert M. La Follette, Sr., n.d.) "The state will not have discharged its duty to the University nor the University fulfilled its mission to the people until adequate means have been furnished to every young man and woman in the state to acquire an education at home in every department of learning" (University of Wisconsin Extension, n.d.)
(University of Wisconsin System Logo, 2017)

By 1960, the percentage of students in Wisconsin attending a public university had risen to 68.6%number and was expect to grow to 70% by the end of the decade. Director Lorentz Adolfson stressed that the Extension Division's operations would have to change dramatically to meet the challenge of this new society. He believed that the Centers would eventually emerge as a special type of junior college. Above all, Adolfson believed that whatever happened in the future, the Centers would play a critical role of continuing the Wisconsin Idea of providing citizens access to the University of the state (Bowler, 2002).

In 1963, University of Wisconsin President Fred Harvey Harrington propsed a plan to create the University of Wisconsin Center System, separating it from the General Extension offices the Centers belonged to. The purpose of the Center Systems would be to offer both freshman and sophomore courses. Thought it faced much scrutiny from outsiders, the UW Board of Regents passed the proposal unanimously. In 1964, the University of Wisconsin Center System was established and L.H. Adolfson was selected as the Center system's first provost (Bower, 2002).

(Ralph A. McCance, Assistant Professor of English, University of Wisconsin extension division, and on the right, L.H. Adolfson, Associate Director of the extension division, n.d.)

The Extension Center in Wausau was already ahead of these potential changes. In 1954, the Marathon County Board began to investigate how to finance and construct their own building. The goal was to secure a permanent building that would be able to offer a full, two-year, liberal arts curriculum that UW-Madison could provide freshman and sophomores. In 1957, Marathon County pushed the state to change a law, allowing the county to finance construction of a university, instead of needing state approval. Later in the year, after the change of the law, the Marathon County Board authorized the construction of the a university building for $530,000. Ground was broken in February of 1958 and construction was completed in 1960. The first new University of Wisconsin Center building was completed (University of Wisconsin-Marathon County, n.d.-a).

At the time of the creation of the UW Center System, there were two educational systems in Wisconsin: the University of Wisconsin system and the Wisconsin State Universites (WSU) system. The University of Wisconsin system was composed of UW-Madison, UW-Milwaukee, the newly formed UW Center System. The Wisconsin State Universities were composed of nine public universities and four freshman-sophomore campuses (University of Wisconsin System, n.d.).

Due to the financial status of the nation and the state in 1971, newly elected Governor Lucey proposed a merger of the UW system and WSU system. In his budget, Lucey asserted that over $4 million taxpayer dollars would be saved. By September, 1971, the Senate and Assembly approved Governor Lucey's budget, meaning the merger between UW and WSU was complete. The UW System, as we know it today, was created (Bower, 2002).

What came next was a "merger within a merger." This task was complicated by trying to bring together fourteen two-year campuses which had three quite different backgrounds and experiences: the current UW Center System institutions, the 3-M institutions that belong to UW-Green Bay, and the four institutions that belonged to former WSU universities. After much debate, the proposal to broaden the current UW Center System governance to all two-year schools was chosen (Bower, 2002). Thee group of two-year institutions began to operate as one entity.

(University of Wisconsin System Campuses, 2017)
(University of Wisconsin Colleges Logo, 2017)

In 1997, the UW Centers changed their name to the University of Wisconsin Colleges. The governance remained the same. In 2005, extension seemingly came full circle, as the Board of Regents partially reunited the UW Colleges with UW-Extension. Each institution has separate provosts and retain their individual identities and missions, but they are under a single chancellor and administration (University of Wisconsin Colleges, n.d.-b).

On January 1, 2016, the UW Colleges underwent a new regionalization. The Colleges were given a $5 million budget cut, the largest in its history (University of Wisconsin Colleges, n.d.-d). To make up the cuts, the 13 institutions were divided into four regions. Each region was given a single executive officer/dean and an associate dean to oversee day-to-day operational needs. To cover the cut, 83 full-time positions were eliminated, largely in campus administration (University of Wisconsin Colleges, n.d.-d). The goal of the regionalization was to save on costs, while still providing students and local communities the access they deserve to quality education.

(UW-Marathon County Husky Logo, n.d.)

Through all of the system changes, quality education has been provided in Wausau since 1933. With the UW Center System becoming the UW Colleges in August of 1997, the institution in Wausau officially became known as the University of Wisconsin-Marathon County.

Growth was happening at UWMC during this time. To accommodate an influx of students, a renovation was began in 1995 and completed in 1997. This renovation built a student union, expanded the library, and updated the administrative area and classrooms. A new Art building was constructed in 2003, offices and a classroom were added onto the current Fieldhouse in 2005, and two floors of the South Hall Science Wing were completed in 2007 (University of Wisconsin-Marathon County, n.d.-a).

Perhaps the shining spot of campus is the UW Center for Civic Engagement building. This $6.8 million undertaking was opened in October, 2010. It is home to the Veninga Theater and Auditorium, Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR), and the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy (WIPPS). These unique offerings provide students internship opportunities at a freshman-sophomore university that they may not otherwise experience until their junior or senior year. Other buildings on campus include a planetarium, greenhouse, fitness center, pool, and art studios (University of Wisconsin Colleges, n.d.-e)

(UW Center for Civic Engagement, n.d.)

Part of the purpose of UW-Marathon County, and all UW Colleges, is not just providing quality education, but pathways to further education. The Guaranteed Transfer is an agreement between the UW Colleges and the four-year institutions in the UW System that states students in the UW Colleges will be guaranteed admissions into another UW System institution as a junior. Students need to complete a Declaration of Intent to Participate and must meet certain requirements: earn 54 credits and maintain a certain GPA; 2.8 for Madison, 2.0 for all others (University of Wisconsin Colleges, n.d.-a). With dedicated hard work, students can reach their educational goals.

As always, the goal is to always promote the Wisconsin Idea. To see how this shows up at UW-Marathon County, see the video below.


The major concern for UW-Marathon County is finances. The institution is in year two of the current budget cuts and the next budget proposed by Governor Scott Walker has people worried with the removal of segregated fees. The first round of budget cuts severely impacted Student Affairs and the second round impacted faculty. Concerns are growing that the UW Colleges will struggle to maintain a competitive sophomore-level course load, with the layoffs.

The second concern is related to finances; declining area high school enrollment. If the purpose of the UW Colleges is to provide the local community with education, it still needs the community to want that education enough to attend college. In the last twenty years, the Wausau School District has lost roughly 2,000 student enrollments (Wausau School District, 2016). The decrease of local high school students plus the increase of competition for those students from four-year institutions leads has been an obstacle UW-Marathon County is working to overcome.


I think the biggest reason that UW-Marathon County will survive the current political and financial environment is that it has always done so. Finances have been concerns since the beginning of the days of Extension-Division providing education to farmers. Each time a new system was developed, whether Extension, the UW Center System, the UW System, or the regionalization of the UW Colleges, financial concerns have been met and answered (Bower, 2002). Looking over the history of these institutions was incredibly beneficial to me; I realized that the state of education has always been in flux in Wisconsin. The purpose, the meaning, the delivery, and the oversight has always been changing. Yet, the end goal of providing the Wisconsin Idea to everyone in the state has always remained the same. This gives me hope for a better future, both for UW-Marathon County and its students.


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[UWMarathonCounty]. (March 7, 2013). I believe in UWMC – Ann Herda-Rapp. [Video File]. Retrieved from

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