Fewer students are attending Washington State University Tri-Cities this fall compared with last year, the second straight year enrollment has dropped at the Richland campus.
School officials and students said increasing tuition costs likely contributed to 82 fewer students enrolled this fall. The school and others are finding ways to make higher education affordable but many students and their families still are struggling with the increased burden.
"I think money is the main thing," said Amber Eubanks, president of the Associated Students of WSU Tri-Cities.
About 350 more students are enrolled in the entire WSU system with the Pullman campus seeing the positive enrollment. The Vancouver campus, which has a larger enrollment than the Richland campus, saw 163 fewer students on campus this fall compared with last year.
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Despite the decline in enrollment at the Richland campus, interim chancellor Richard Pratt and other school officials highlighted positive aspects of this year's enrollment numbers.
The school has its largest number of transfer students in six years, and the number of incoming freshmen is slightly higher compared with last year.
The campus also is becoming more racially diverse, as more than one out of four students are now members of a minority.
The bulk of those minority students describe themselves as Hispanic, but the school also is now finding students claiming to be members of two or more races.
Minority student enrollment has been steadily increasing since 2009 and fits in with the goals of the campus and WSU system to increase student diversity. School officials are working toward getting the Richland campus designated as a Hispanic-serving institution, which opens up the school to new funding.
"Our Latino enrollment is the largest in our history and our African-American enrollment has tripled over the past three years," said John Fraire, WSU vice president of student affairs and enrollment, in a news release.
Those students still have to pay to go to school, though. Enrollment for in-state students is up almost 50 percent compared with 2009. Those students are paying more than $1,000 more this year than they did to attend class last year.
"Tuition is a much more significant fraction of our funding than it used to be," Pratt said.
The school has responded by offering more scholarships, including a record $431,000 provided to students for the current academic year. School officials are also working to make sure students are fully aware of their options to pay for their education.
"We're trying to be more pursposeful in educating students and their families about costs and the availability of aid," Pratt said.
But even those efforts can't keep everyone on campus. Eubanks, a fifth-year senior studying to go to pharmacy school, said she knows students have dropped out because tuition has become too much for them to bear.
Even recent difficulties with the university's disbursement of financial aid has led to some students putting off school because they needed to pay other bills, she said.
She said she has seen positive factors in enrollment this year, particularly in the large number of transfer students. However, many of those transfers are at the Richland campus for the same reason students dropped their courses -- to save money.