WSU Tri-Cities enrollment going up for fall

Washington State University Tri-Cities is preparing to admit more students than last year despite the threat of state budget cuts.

The branch campus has admitted 134 potential freshmen so far for the 2009-10 school year, which starts in August, up from 89 as of this time last year. That's a 51 percent increase, according to an admissions report released Wednesday.

And transfer admissions are up from 157 students as of March 24, 2008, to 194 students by the same date in 2009. That's nearly a 24 percent increase.

Jaime Contreras, WSU Tri-Cities director of student affairs, said the growth was close to being "miraculous."

"This year is a weird year because the economy is playing such a big role," Contreras said.

Students traditionally flock to colleges during tough economic cycles - either for retraining after being laid off from a job or because they need education to get jobs in an increasingly competitive market.

One trend Contreras has noticed is that more students are applying to public, state-subsidized schools over private universities to save money.

And WSU Tri-Cities offers the benefit of being a nontraditional campus where students can continue living with parents to save money while attending school, he said.

But another piece of the statistical picture is evidence that WSU Tri-Cities' recruitment efforts are working, especially with minority students, Contreras said.

Applications and admissions for all measurable ethnic groups are up in 2009. Applications rose 108 percent, from 73 for fall 2008 to 152 for fall 2009, and admissions rose 116 percent from 43 to 93.

The biggest jump in raw numbers was among Hispanic students, with 104 students applying in 2009 versus 58 in 2008, for a 79 percent increase.

Of those who applied for fall 2009, 67 were admitted, compared with 35 in 2008, representing a 91 percent rise in Hispanic student admissions.

Contreras said since he came to WSU Tri-Cities in June 2008, he has expanded outreach and recruitment by visiting more schools and participating in events with the Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement, or MESA, program. The program encourages women and minorities to pursue careers in science, math, engineering and technology.

The campus has developed marketing materials in Spanish and Russian and hopes to translate materials into Asian languages.

And Contreras said he's done this while staying under budget for advertising and without hiring additional staff because of a state-mandated hiring freeze.

The entire university system has been exploring ways to cut 12 to 18 percent from its operating budget because of a nearly $9 billion projected state deficit through the end of the next biennium.

Contreras said despite budget cuts, WSU Tri-Cities will be ready for the influx of students expected this fall.

"We can handle the growth for this year, but if it continues two or three years, we may have to make some difficult decisions," he said.