The UW Colleges is a single institution offering a freshman and sophomore level liberal arts education and consisting of 13 regional campuses and UW Colleges Online. The campuses are owned by the counties and/or municipalities where they are located, but are a fully integrated unit of the University of Wisconsin System. The UW Colleges is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission to award an Associate of Arts and Sciences degree for the completion of 60 general education credits.
UW Colleges was created in approximately its current form after World War II when the Board of Regents adopted a formal policy encouraging counties and municipalities to provide land and buildings for use by the University of Wisconsin. At that time, the campuses were part of the UW-Extension.
Starting in 1971, when a merger joined the University of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin State University systems into a single University of Wisconsin System, the campuses became part of the UW System operating as a single institution. The campuses adopted the University of Wisconsin Colleges name in 1997.
The most recent organizational change occurred in 2005 when the Board of Regents placed the UW Colleges and UW-Extension under a single chancellor and administration, although the two institutions have separate provosts and retain their individual identities and missions.