Despite a huge increase in freshmen on campus, the enrollment at Washington State University Tri-Cities is the lowest since it began accepting freshmen in 2007.
The Richland campus has 1,336 students this fall — 102 fewer than were attending at the same time last year, said a WSU release.
It’s the third straight year the campus posted a decline in enrollment since hitting a peak of 1,553 students in fall 2010.
But the news isn’t all bad.
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WSU Tri-Cities has 135 freshman this year, a 42 percent jump from last year. That’s the largest percentage increase in the WSU system and the largest freshman class the branch campus has ever had.
And more than 30 percent of students identify themselves as minorities, making it the most diverse campus in the WSU system.
Spokeswoman Melissa O’Neil Perdue said WSU Tri-Cities’ biggest decline in student enrollment was in a category for working professionals taking classes paid for by an employer but not for a degree.
“There were significant changes in how those programs were implemented by some employers,” she said.
The university is looking at promoting those programs to bring in more of those students.
At the same time, she said the booming freshmen and minority enrollment, combined with a stabilizing economy, is reason for cautious optimism.
“We have come a long way so that our campus represents the community,” she told the Herald.
The WSU system has 27,111 students attending classes at campuses in Pullman, Vancouver, Spokane and Richland.
It is the second largest enrollment in university history, a decline of half a percentage point or about 200 students from fall 2012.
WSU Tri-Cities wasn’t the only campus to post a drop in enrollment. Pullman, which includes the campus in Spokane, had 103 fewer students this fall than last year but is still the largest campus by far with 22,713 students. WSU Vancouver has 3,062 students, up from 2,980 last year.
In general, the decline in enrollment is likely because the number of high school students graduating has declined since the 2009-10 school year based on data from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. That means there’s fewer students to enroll in college each fall.
In general, O’Neil Perdue said the economy is stabilizing, making it easier for families to shoulder their children’s tuition bills.
After seeing tuition nearly double since the fall of 2007, the WSU Regents did not increase tuition this academic year from last year’s rate.
And the university is doing more to target potential freshmen through regional high schools, O’Neil Perdue said.
Chancellor H. Keith Moo-Young has instituted new outreach programs for freshman, including having small group lunches with them and sending letters home to parents every month talking about their child’s college experience.
Moo-Young also is visiting community colleges throughout South Central Washington to meet with their presidents and point out the benefits of their graduates continuing their education at the university.
“We’re looking beyond the Tri-Cities,” O’Neil Perdue said.