The University of Wisconsin Colleges prepares students for success at the baccalaureate level of education, providing the first two years of a liberal arts general education and a single baccalaureate degree that meets the local and individual need. Each UW Colleges campus offers a transfer curriculum for baccalaureate degrees, professional studies, and a general education Associate of Arts and Science degree. Six campuses offer the Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences degree. In addition, all campuses have Guaranteed Transfer and Collaborative Degree Programs with UW System baccalaureate-granting institutions. The UW Colleges advances the Wisconsin Idea by bringing educational and cultural resources to the people of these communities and to the state.

The physical facilities of the thirteen traditional campuses of the UW Colleges were built by and are owned, maintained and expanded by local counties and cities. Educational programs are provided by the UW Colleges. This unique relationship has created strong campus-community bonds and a pride that gives the UW Colleges a special character within the University of Wisconsin System. The University of Wisconsin Colleges Online is a virtual, fourteenth campus providing online courses statewide, as well as nationally and internationally.

The UW Colleges enrolls approximately 10,000 students, including one of the largest number of new freshmen in any one institution of the UW System. The UW Colleges enrolls students from several foreign countries, 30 states, and almost all 72 counties in Wisconsin. One-third of enrolled UW Colleges students are over the age of 22, making the returning adult student an important component of the student body. Through its campus-based liberal arts general education program and applied baccalaureate program, and online and collaborative degree programs, the UW Colleges is effective in meeting the needs of adult learners seeking lifelong education near their work and families.

The thirteen traditional University of Wisconsin Colleges campuses are organized in a regional administrative structure, overseen by a single Regional Executive Officer and Dean supported by Regional Associate Deans of Academic Affairs, Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, and Administration and Finance. The regional associate deans also serve in the role of campus administrator located at each campus. Each campus provides Student Affairs services at the campus Solution Center, and library, information technology and academic support services are available through the campus-based Centers for Academic Support and Engagement. Governance of the institution is shared by the administration with faculty, academic staff, university staff, and students. On each campus, all of these groups participate in a campus Collegium. At an institutional level, the UW Colleges Senate develops and recommends policies to the chancellor, and 17 institution-wide academic departments and two standalone, interdisciplinary academic programs, participate in curricular and personnel decisions that go through campus and Senate bodies to the provost for action. Student governance is organized both on the individual campuses and institution-wide.

The University of Wisconsin Colleges Online is administered by a campus dean and supported by an associate dean of academic affairs and an assistant dean of student affairs and enrollment management.  UW Colleges Online provides students support in academic and student affairs with robust services and opportunities to engage in governance at the campus and institutional levels.

The chancellor is the chief executive officer of the UW Colleges and UW-Extension, with which the UW Colleges is integrated at the senior administrative level. The chancellor reports to the president of the UW System and to the UW Board of Regents. Directly assisting the chancellor in the operation of the UW Colleges are the provost/vice chancellor for academic affairs, the vice chancellor for administrative and financial services, associate vice chancellor for student affairs and enrollment management, assistant vice chancellor for human resources and office of equity, diversity, and inclusion, director of communications, assistant vice chancellor for information technology and chief information officer, chief of staff and executive director for external relations; and their respective staffs. The offices of the chancellor and the administrative staff are located in Madison.