Residents here are seeing something they haven’t seen in years: “For Rent” signs in October.
Normally, nearly every studio apartment, house, basement apartment and extra room in Pullman is rented by late August. Washington State University students account for two-thirds of the city’s population of 25,000.
This year, WSU expected to have about 17,100 students living in Pullman. Although WSU’s total enrollment is at a record high because of increases at its branch campuses, this fall brought fewer students - 16,911 - to the main Pullman campus.
At other public universities in the region, overall enrollments are falling - much of it caused, administrators say, by tuition increases for out-of-state students.
At the University of Idaho, officials were expecting a slight increase in the number of students. Instead, enrollment fell 5 percent, from 11,727 to 11,133.
“We’re disappointed,” said UI interim provost George Simmons. “We thought it would be conservative to expect a 2 percent rise annually.”
At Cheney’s Eastern Washington University, this fall’s enrollment of 7,594 students is down 484 from last year.
Administrators saw it coming, said James Hoffman, EWU’s senior vice president and provost. In addition to losing out-of-state students to higher tuition, fewer people are transferring to EWU from community colleges.
“More and more students are in vocational programs and are not transferring to four-year institutions,” Hoffman said.
At WSU, officials view the drop in Pullman students as a temporary hiccup in the numbers. They’re holding to their prediction of 24,000 students in Pullman by 2010, with average enrollment growth of about 2.5 percent per year.
“We’re looking at a 15-year projection. Understand that there may be small variances in any given semester,” said WSU interim provost Geoffrey Gamble. “Those high school kids and junior high school kids are out there in the pipeline.”
He attributes the drop in Pullman’s enrollment to a 14 percent rise in tuition for out-of-state students.
“That probably cost us 200 students,” said James Rimpau, director of WSU’s office of institutional research.
At UI, the out-of-state tuition increase was dramatic.
“In four years, we’ve doubled it,” said Simmons. Now, non-residents pay $7,420 per year. “We expected the decrease in out-of-state (enrollment), but we didn’t think it would be this large.”
At EWU, out-of-state tuition increased by more than $1,000 in two years. “Because we’re so close to Idaho, that affects us,” said spokeswoman Stefanie Pettit. The university has traditionally drawn many students from Coeur d’Alene.
The changes leave university officials searching for new ways to compete.
The statewide enrollment increase at WSU came largely from people enrolling in its extended degree program, said spokeswoman Barbara Petura.
Community college graduates can start at WSU as a junior without even moving to Pullman. More people are taking courses at WSU’s three branch campuses and via TV and the Internet.
“A large segment of the population is not all that movable, but they still want to get a four-year degree,” Gamble said.
To stabilize things at UI, Simmons said the college will likely begin recruiting in fast-growing Western states it hasn’t hit before: California, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada.
“We’re not cheap anymore, but we’re still a good deal because we’re a good school,” Simmons said.
To court students who don’t live near Cheney, EWU has opened an admissions office in Seattle.
EWU’s biggest hit didn’t come from a loss of freshmen. While there were only seven fewer first-year students, 211 fewer students transferred there this year.
Hoffman thinks that if freshman recruitment remains steady, in a few years the student shortage will be over. A population bulge is still working its way toward college, he said.
“The children of the baby boom generation are largely still in middle school and high school.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Out-of-state tuition fees increase