May 7, 2011 in City

The new college try

By The Spokesman-Review
Dan Pelle photoBuy this photo

North Central High School senior Selena Ward focuses on last-minute preparations for her Advanced Placement European History test on Friday at the school. Ward is planning to attend Washington State University and said she wears WSU clothing to school several times a week.
(Full-size photo)

By the numbers

4,400: Potential size of WSU’s incoming freshman class.

90: Percentage of incoming class who are Washington residents

2,900: Size of WSU’s freshman class last year

3,411: Largest WSU freshman class on record (2008)

13 to 16: Percentage increase in tuition expected at WSU

Washington State University’s next freshman class will make history, and North Central High School senior Selena Ward couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it.

“I wear a WSU sweatshirt (to school) like three times a week,” Ward said Friday. She’s one of about 10 students at the high school who were accepted to the university, and she plans to attend this fall.

WSU is expecting a freshman class of 4,100 to 4,400 students in the fall, compared with 2,900 last year. The largest incoming class on record was 3,411 in 2008, university officials said.

“This year we realized we needed to grow because of the budget,” said John Fraire, vice president for student affairs and enrollment. WSU is facing cuts between $110 million and $130 million, depending on what state lawmakers decide in the current special session.

Tuition also will increase 13 to 16 percent.

By increasing its freshman enrollment more than 25 percent, WSU is taking a different approach than the University of Washington, which announced a controversial plan to boost out-of-state student enrollment to garner the dramatically higher tuition those students pay.

WSU President Elson Floyd said earlier this month that the school doesn’t want to increase tuition, and “we greatly prefer a higher level of state support.” But, he added, “we must deal with the financial realities as they are.”

Regardless of the financial crisis, university officials are trying to focus on the positive aspects of the incoming freshman class and changes at WSU to accommodate them.

Nearly 90 percent of the freshmen are Washington residents – versus about 70 percent at UW – and 25 percent are students of color. “The enrollment will also be the most ethnically and economically diverse class ever for WSU,” Fraire said.

Several tools helped build the biggest freshman class ever, including improved recruiting, a more user-friendly admission process and “the university’s improved academic reputation,” said Darin Watkins, university spokesman.

Floyd met with campus leaders earlier this week to talk about changes being made to accommodate the incoming class.

Some class sizes will be increased. A minor will no longer be required for some bachelor’s degrees – opening up classroom space and reducing the time needed to earn a degree. More classes will be offered online; 80-minute-long, two-day-a-week classes are being eliminated. The number of general education requirements is being reduced, and an online, three-week-long winter program will be tested to allow students to earn three credits.

Nevertheless, the increase in students doesn’t come with a big increase in faculty to teach them.

“We are looking at some of the extra money from tuition to make some strategic hires,” Fraire said.

But there will most likely be bigger teaching loads for everyone, including tenured professors, who will probably have to spend more time teaching, officials said.

University officials don’t anticipate a housing crunch, because this year’s graduating class is large.

So much about the budget remains up in the air that many employees are uncertain about what 2011-’12 holds.

“Frustrating is a nice way to put it,” said Kenneth Struckmeyer, WSU Faculty Senate executive secretary. Other words that work, he said, are “nerve-racking,” “fear” and “uncertainty.”

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