Low enrollment hurts WSU; recruitment efforts in place

Each college at WSU affected differently, departments are implementing recruiting efforts



A class filled with students, part of the College of Education as they continue to be accidently overbooked.

GABRIELLE BOWMAN, Evergreen news co-editor

 The pandemic put a damper on WSU enrollment, however, they have a plan to reel in more students to campus. The university is creating a plan to restore enrollment by expanding access to financial aid and implementing recruiting campaigns from each department. 

“It is probably about a two to three-year plan,” said Saichi Oba, vice provost of enrollment. “The overall approach is to increase access using financial aid and then having a sort of tailored communications to help students understand what Washington State has to offer.” 

As of fall 2021, WSU had a total of 24,278 undergraduate students which means WSU had a drop of 1,666 students this school year, according to the WSU total student enrollment website. 

“To really understand the enrollment declines you need to go back to pre-COVID levels,” said Bruce Pinkleton, dean of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication. “COVID introduced a whole new variable that took a toll on college enrollments across the country. So, those are the kinds of things we’re trying to recover from, that is the challenge and I believe it’s going to be a multi-year process.”

Enrollment has affected WSU as a whole because if enrollment drops all colleges on campus are affected, said Tariq Akmal, department chair for teaching and learning in the College of Education.

“Whether your department is strong or not, if we’re having budgetary reductions all of us get affected by that,” Akmal said.

With this in mind, WSU’s global campus has thrived since the pandemic. 

“Global attracts not only transfer students, but people who might have been away from college for a few years,” Oba said.

The Pullman campus attracts those who transfer or those who are first-year students because of the experience they can get, but this is not the case for those who are older and are simply looking at getting their degree, Oba said. 

“Whenever I talk to the president [Kirk Schultz]or the provost [Elizabeth Chilton] or even the Board of Regents about this I always tell them this sort of attractiveness of online flexibility of online learning is still very appealing to students,” Oba said. 

The teacher education program itself has had high enrollment numbers because of teachers’ salaries going up, however throughout the nation the numbers have interestingly gone down, Akmal said. 

“This is kind of a humorous moment,” Akmal said. “We were warned that enrollment would drop dramatically in the following year. So, knowing that I had too many applicants for the seats and space we have, we went to the central administration and they said, ‘We’ll over-admit because you’re going to lose them.’ So I over admitted and they all said yes, we’re coming.” 

Trying to even out what was going to happen with enrollment dropping because of the pandemic, the College of Education then proceeded accidentally to over-admit students because they are only allowed to admit 60 elementary majors a year and they admitted 80 students in 2020, Akmal said. 

Fall semester looks to be the same for the College of Education.

“Next fall again, I’ve got too many students and so we’ll have to see if I have enough space to over-admit, again,” Akmal said. 

However, it is not just WSU struggling with enrollment numbers, it is an issue affecting universities all across the country, Pinkleton said. 

“When enrollments drop it’s the equivalent of universities taking a budget cut unintended and unplanned for but still a budget cut,” he said.

Pinkleton said Murrow college is down about 8% this year when it comes to enrollment.

The Murrow College itself is implementing marketing strategies to engage potential students to the college, Pinkleton said. 

“We’re trying different student recruitment programs and we’re really leaning into the best ways to recruit students. The university is doing the same thing at the same levels,” Pinkleton said. 

Pinkleton said enrollment is affecting staff as well on campus.

The Murrow College may have a harder time recruiting faculty if they cannot pay them as much as other universities, but it depends on each individual situation, he said.

WSU is challenged when it comes to enrollment, however, they are doing what they can to revive enrollment and help incoming students figure out if WSU is the right place for them, Oba said. 

“I think we’ll get through our enrollment challenges here, but it’s probably taking longer than most of us thought,” Oba said.