Despite the ever-rising cost of tuition and fees, most of the region’s colleges and universities are again bursting with high enrollment.
And in many cases, these students are coming to school with higher GPAs and more scholarships than their predecessors, say school officials as they perform the annual ritual of trotting out their numbers for public review.
A few more here and there may not seem like much, but Eastern Washington University’s president Steve Jordan got a shock last year when more than 1,000 students and parents poured into his home for an informal ice cream social. This year, he’s ready for the crowd.
“We’ve been packing them in a little tighter and a little tighter,” said Eastern spokeswoman Stefanie Pettit. “Every school has.”
Though classes at Eastern won’t start until Wednesday, administrators are counting on an additional 300 students this year. With the added enrollment, the school is finding residence hall housing a bit tight. That means far fewer single rooms, said Michelle Whittingham, associate director of admissions. “It’s an exciting problem to have,” she said.
A recent national review released last week by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education listed Washington as one of the worst states with regard to college affordability and Idaho only slightly better. Even so, the costs don’t seem to be slowing demand.
The country is several years into the echo boom generation made up of the children of baby boomers, and this fall the region’s schools were prepared. No one has to sleep on cots in the gym, though Gonzaga University is still housing a group of students at a downtown Spokane hotel.
The extra numbers have come out in other ways. At Washington State University, extra students plus extra interest in football meant that home-game tickets sold out in a nanosecond. At WSU, by the way, administrators are boasting the strongest-performing academic freshman class in the school’s history. The average GPA for this year’s 3,108 freshmen is 3.46.
The only schools to have dips in enrollment are the University of Idaho and the Community Colleges of Spokane. The UI is down just 70 students from its record last year of 12,894. The school blames the drop on the fact that fewer students are enrolling to take just a class or two. Nonetheless, the school is boasting a freshman class of 72 with 4.0 GPAs and 69 valedictorians.
Gary Livingston, president of Spokane Community Colleges, blames the economy and possibly the higher cost of tuition for the 5 percent enrollment drop. Even though the numbers at Spokane’s two-year schools are down by about 700, the colleges will still be taking on more students than are funded by the state, he said.
Whitworth College, which has 42 more freshmen this fall, could have gotten more but is struggling to grow in a controlled manner. “We had an 80 percent increase in applications over the last four years,” said spokesman Greg Orwig. “We are having to turn away more students.”
To handle the steadily increasing numbers, Whitworth built a new dorm last year, purchased more homes around campus for housing and on Saturday dedicated the new Weyerhaeuser Hall, a $7 million, 33,000-square-foot classroom, laboratory and office building.
Though we’re already five years into the student population boom, expect to see the numbers continue to swell until 2008 or 2009, said Orwig. “That’s when it peaks in Washington,” he said. But don’t think it will then go down, he said. “After that, it’s expected to plateau.”