For the first time in several years, overall enrollments at the Palouse campuses of the University of Idaho and Washington State University have dropped.
But rising enrollments on branch campuses have offset that trend at least a bit, with increases in students attending Spokane’s WSU programs, Coeur d’Alene’s UI campus and others.
At the UI, the number of students enrolled is off 5.9 percent from last year. On WSU’s Pullman campus, overall enrollment is down 1.4 percent – though WSU’s statewide enrollment including branch campuses is up by about 1.1 percent.
While officials at both schools are paying attention to the changes, they said that they’re not cause for alarm.
“The figures are up overall and down a little bit for Pullman, but they’re right about where they should be as far as meeting the targets the state set for us,” said Karl Boehmke, WSU’s executive director of planning and budget.
University officials have seen this coming for months, as spring and summer applications fell off from previous years. They’ve speculated on a few possible reasons – an improved economy keeping more young adults in the job market, recent increases in the cost of application fees, and the overall rising expense of a college education.
“I think the cost of education for some students is becoming very limiting,” said Dan Davenport, director of admissions and financial aid at the UI.
It’s the first time enrollment has declined on the Pullman campus in five years, though this year’s figures remain higher than in any previous year but last year. At UI, enrollment has steadily risen since at least 1997, but Davenport noted that this year’s drop follows a record year and is still within 50 students of the five-year average.
“It’s something we take seriously,” he said. “We want to know what’s going on. We want to make sure we’re not limiting access to students.”
The figures are the 10th-day enrollment count that is traditionally the official tally of students. WSU and UI are the first colleges in the region to begin classes, and so have their official enrollments first, as well.
Statewide, WSU’s enrollments were 23,428 – up 0.4 percent from last fall. The increase came largely thanks to rising enrollment at WSU-Vancouver, which was up by 19 percent – or 368 students.
Enrollment at WSU-Spokane was up from 1,535 to 1,580 this fall.
On the Pullman campus, enrollment dropped to 18,423 from 18,690.
Total enrollment at the UI’s Moscow campus was 10,682, and was 11,739 statewide – a drop of 5.9 percent. At the UI’s Coeur d’Alene campus, enrollment rose 6 percent to 386 students – the most out of the university’s four branch operations across the state.
Universities also pay close attention to minority enrollments. At WSU, while the incoming freshman class includes more students of color than in previous years, the overall minority enrollment in Pullman dropped from 14.3 percent to 14.1 percent.
The UI saw a small increase in minority enrollments. It also saw an increase in the enrollment of National Merit scholars, to 16.
“That’s a new record for us,” Davenport said.