President Elson S. Floyd

Perspectives

Elson S. Floyd, Ph.D. - 5/6/2011

The Fall Enrollment Outlook

I have often said that, if the state allocation to Washington State University continued to be reduced, we would need to fundamentally restructure what we do and how we do it.

While the final version of the biennial budget has not yet been adopted, we know the general parameters of what that budget will look like. In response, we have determined that we must seek to grow our enrollment in the upcoming academic year.

The messages we are hearing from the Legislature are threefold:

  • Every state agency and department must adjust to the new fiscal realities.

  • The state needs more college graduates.

  • As the state's share of the higher education budgets continues to shrink, universities must increasingly rely on tuition payments to support their programs.


As the state's land-grant research university, WSU wholeheartedly supports the need for access to higher education. And while we would greatly prefer a higher level of state support and a lower level of tuition increases as a means to that goal, we must deal with the financial realities as they are.

As a result, we have been focused and aggressive in recruiting incoming freshmen for the class that will be arriving on our Pullman campus in the fall. We have received a record number of applications and, based on the confirmations that we have received to date, we expect that class will number between 4,100 and 4,400 students. We expect solid enrollments in our regional campuses as well, but not to the extent we are expecting in Pullman.

At the high end of the projection, the Pullman freshman class would be nearly 1,000 students larger than our previous largest freshman class, 3,411 in the fall of 2008.

We expect this to be both a well-qualified and diverse class. While enrollment will be up in most categories, we will continue our practice of admitting a class with about 90 percent in-state students.

How will we be able to accommodate that many students? And, just as important, how will we be able to guarantee that they receive a first-class educational experience?

This week, I met with leaders of academic and administrative units from across campus to address the many issues raised by such a large freshman class. I was greatly impressed by the positive spirit in the room. We are ready, willing, and able to make the extra effort required to provide more educational opportunities to qualified Washingtonians.

While the increased tuition income generated by these students will not be sufficient to spare the university from some painful budget cuts, we believe it will allow us to make some targeted hires-both faculty and staff-to help us meet the needs of the incoming students.

We also have some excess capacity because last year's freshman class was relatively small and we have a large class of seniors graduating this spring. Overall, if the numbers meet current projections, the total fall enrollment in Pullman will increase by about 1,000 over this year's numbers.

I will not claim that we can educate that number of new freshmen without some increases in class size. However, we have already adopted a number of changes to help us be more focused in our course offerings and smarter in the way we use our facilities.

Those changes include:

  • Revising the course schedule to eliminate 80-minute-long classes on Mondays and Wednesdays. This will prevent a single class from stretching over what otherwise would be two 50-minute class periods, enabling more classes to be scheduled and providing students more flexibility to schedule the courses they need.

  • No longer requiring minors in order to graduate with baccalaureate degrees in some majors, which should open classroom space for more students seeking to complete a degree in their preferred major, and reduce the time to degree.

  • Piloting an online, three-week-long winter program allowing students to earn three required credits in selected courses.

  • Moving more classes online.


Still, we recognize that admitting a class of this size raises logistical issues.

We believe, by maximizing use of our available space, that we have sufficient residence hall capacity to handle this freshman class. We have unused classroom space at the beginning and end of the school day that we now will put to use. We are also looking at ways to convert spaces that have not been used for classrooms in the past.

We understand issues around laboratory availability and will do everything possible to make sure that our lab spaces are open and equipped to meet our students' needs. Issues of counseling, academic support, orientation, and IT access are also being addressed.

This remains very much a work in progress. However, I sincerely believe that this provides a real opportunity for WSU to show that a major research university can quickly make the adjustments necessary to respond to the will of the Legislature and to meet the needs of this generation of Washingtonians.

Provost Warwick M. Bayly and I will be meeting with faculty groups over the next month to discuss issues raised both by the budget and by the new, larger class of freshmen. Discussions will continue within administrative and support units as well.

I greatly appreciate the positive spirit that the faculty and staff of WSU have continued to show throughout these budget discussions and I look forward to working with all of you to take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead.

 

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