Enrollment largely held steady at most of Wisconsin’s public universities this fall, bucking a downward trendline that has plagued institutions across the demographically challenged Midwest.

The campus-by-campus breakdown, however, shows many of the state’s smallest schools continuing to lose students, according to preliminary numbers released Thursday. Three of the 12 branch campuses each have fewer than 300 students, raising questions about how — or if — they should continue to operate in their current form.

University of Wisconsin System President Jay Rothman was encouraged by the overall numbers, which showed enrollment grew from the previous year for the first time in nearly a decade. But remove UW-Madison from the picture and enrollment across the 12 universities and branch campuses dropped by 128 students.

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