There have never been more students enrolled at Washington State University Tri-Cities.
The school’s fall headcount at the Richland campus shows 1,593 students, according to data released Thursday by WSU officials.
That’s 161 more students, or a nearly 12 percent increase, since last fall, when it experienced its first overall growth in enrollment since 2010, when the student body peaked at 1,553 students.
The larger student body is the result of more transfers, undergraduate and graduate students heading to the campus, WSU Tri-Cities officials said.
But one of the biggest bumps in enrollment came from the university’s newest demographic: 100 Running Start students in the inaugural year of the program on the campus.
University officials said a variety of factors, from stabilizing tuition to efforts to transform the campus to the needs and desires of students, have allowed it to reach its latest milestone.
“Our campus is providing a student experience,” said WSU Tri-Cities spokesman Jeffrey Dennison.
There were 29,686 students enrolled in the WSU system this fall, a 3.5 percent increase, and WSU Tri-Cities remains among its smallest campuses, with Pullman, Vancouver and the university’s online Global Campus having hundreds or thousands more students.
The Richland campus did surpass WSU’s health sciences campus in Spokane in enrollment and is far above the new campus in Everett, which opened this fall with 150 students.
WSU Tri-Cities is the fastest growing physical campus in the WSU system. It also remains the most diverse, with more than 35 percent of students describing themselves as minorities.
Freshman enrollment also went up this fall across the system, though WSU Tri-Cities saw a rare decline to 177 freshmen students, slightly down from the 183 who attended classes last fall. The campus saw its freshman class grow by 48 students last year compared to the fall of 2013, said Chris Meiers, vice chancellor of student services and enrollment.
“We’re still pleased with the freshmen class,” he said.
The university only added six graduate students, giving it a total of 221. Meiers said any growth in that area is a positive, as a number of graduate-level students have been lost in recent years as more online options became available and as Hanford contractors altered how they reimbursed employees for continuing their education.
Enrollment in Running Start, a program that allows high school students to attend college-level classes and earn college credit without paying tuition, was capped at 100 for the first year, Meiers said, despite initial reports it would permit up to 200 students. Two-thirds of those students hail from Hanford or Richland high schools.
Until now, Columbia Basin College had the only Running Start program available in the Mid-Columbia. It has annually been one of the fastest-growing student groups for the college’s Pasco campus. College officials have said they anticipate their program will continue to be a big draw for students.
WSU Tri-Cities officials noted that even without the inclusion of Running Start students in this fall’s enrollment numbers, the undergraduate student body still would have grown by 5 percent, the most of any physical WSU campus. The university’s full-time equivalency rate, a measure of how many students are likely attending courses full-time, is also up 14 percent, hinting toward a growth in more traditional students.
And why shouldn’t the campus be growing, university officials asked. Tuition costs are down 5 percent thanks to more money for higher education from the Legislature, there’s a newly opened Wine Science Center offering degrees in the hospitality and wine industries, and a planned student union building should be available in the spring.
“When you factor in the value and the cost, it’s worth it,” Dennison said of attending the university.