Washington State University Tri-Cities enrollment slipped for a second year, joining a nationwide trend of declining college admissions.
After the first 10 days of class, 1,813 students are taking classes at the Richland campus — 28 fewer than last fall.
The decline has not affected the classes the campus can offer or the services available, said Maegan Murray, the campus’ public relations and communications coordinator.
“We’re pretty pleased that we kept a stable enrollment,” said Chris Meiers, the vice chancellor for student affairs. “We’re doing much more intentional engagement with local students.”
Officials attributed the slip to a combination of a 2.4 percent tuition increase, previous years of double-digit growth and a national trend of fewer students going to college.
Undergraduates from Washington, which make up the majority of WSU students, are now paying $10,510, up from $9,720 the year before. And some of an increasingly cost-conscious student population may have balked and looked at less expensive alternatives.
Eastern, Central and Western Washington universities offer a less expensive alternative to the Richland branch campus.
Past double-digit growth
In addition, WSU Tri-Cities went from 1,347 students in 2013 to a high of 1,937 in 2017. That growth put stress on the services available to students.
With the number of students stabilizing, they are able to make sure those services catch up to the people needing them.
“We were doing 10, 11 percent a year. That is unusual,” Meiers said. “Now we are able grow and keep the value in the programs we have.”
WSU Tri-Cities, and WSU in general, is falling victim to a larger trend — fewer students attending college.
In fact, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reports enrollment at all colleges and universities nationwide have been slipping for eight years. This includes community colleges and regional universities.
After last year’s double- and triple-digit enrollment at most campuses, most of the branches this year either saw a trickle of new students or a dip in numbers.
What comes next
But WSU officials don’t see the downturn continuing and plan to focus their recruitment efforts locally.
They see an opportunity in the burgeoning high school populations throughout the Tri-Cities.
Pasco in particular boasted another record-breaking freshman class, the second in two years.
They hope to position themselves as the only four-year university in the area, and work through their recently reforged partnership with Columbia Basin College to create a strong pipeline of students.
The goals are still being hammered out, said Murray. The campus is in the process of putting together a six-year strategic plan that will includes how much they want to grow.
“We don’t want to grow too fast because it will put a strain on our facilities,” she said. “From out perspective, we would love to see our enrollment grow.”
They also want to continue to leverage the wine industry and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to attract more students.
The decline in students has not affected the percentage of minority students attending classes this fall, many of whom come from Tri-City schools, Meiers said.
Many of those students want to stay closer to their families.
“We are the most diverse campus in the WSU system,” he said.