After three years of growing enrollment, the number of WSU Tri-Cities students dropped this year — but administrators aren’t worried.
The Richland campus welcomed 1,841 students this fall, 96 fewer compared to the same time last year.
“A slight dip in enrollment allows the campus to better meet the needs of continuing students after the annual 10 percent growth we’ve had over the last few years,” said Jeff Dennison, the campus’ director of marketing and communications. “It allows us time to develop infrastructure to keep up with the demand.”
While the drop takes the enrollment to near 2016 levels, it is still far ahead of earlier in the decade. The campus saw explosive growth, increasing the number of students from a low of 1,347 in 2013 to 1,937 last year.
The growth put pressure on the school to find places to teach students and instructors to lead classes. The slowdown will give the campus a chance to catch up, Dennison said.
The campus is in the middle of designing a new academic building that will add additional classroom and lab space. The state put $3 million toward the project in it’s last capital budget. Architects have visited the campus and are working on the design.
Administrators expect the new building, along with student housing, will make the school an attractive choice for prospective students. They also moved two classrooms and two labs out of a rented space near the school, finding space on campus.
The enrollment drop is primarily in new students and cuts across a number of disciplines, so it’s not leading to fewer classes, Dennison said. The campus retained more students then in previous years, indicating it is serving it’s present students better.
Officials said they expect to take a deeper look at the numbers over the next few weeks.
The Tri-Cities campus was the only WSU branch to drop students for the year. Across the system, the university added 864 students, the majority to the main campus in Pullman.
WSU’s school year began Aug. 20; it is the only four-year college in the state on a semester system. Other colleges on the quarter system start in the coming weeks, and it will take several more weeks until they report enrollment numbers.
Colleges across the country have reported small declines in enrollment. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center said that while public universities are generally shielded from volatile changes, last year there was a dip in enrollment.