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Washington State University

Office of the PResident

Elson S. Floyd, Ph.D. - 9/12/07

Higher Enrollment, Higher Expectations

Last week’s news about enrollment was overwhelmingly positive across our university. The 10th day figures showed higher enrollments university-wide; Pullman’s largest freshman class ever; a first class of freshmen that far exceeded expectations at WSU Tri-Cities; a well-qualified, diverse group of incoming students.

I am excited to see that WSU is keeping our commitment to the state and providing higher education for more Washingtonians.

At the same time, I see those positive numbers as only one step toward what I would consider true success.

As I have traveled around Washington these past few months to become reacquainted with community and business leaders statewide, I have been struck by their fundamental belief in higher education. They see it as vital to their communities’ economic success. They understand the importance of having a highly educated workforce and citizenry. They want us – they need us – to succeed.

In that effort, the number of students who enroll at colleges and universities is only one part of the equation.

People are concerned about the quality of their K-12 schools. They want to know what public universities can do to help. Generally, I don’t think higher education nationwide has done enough. We must be an active partner with K-12 education. That is not just a matter of educating outstanding teachers, although that is vital. We need to provide practical research on improving students’ learning and help move that research into the classrooms through active collaborations.

I know much of that happens today. More needs to happen in the future. We all have a role to play in helping more students – especially those who, because of their financial status or family background, might not see higher education as a real possibility – to graduate from high school with the skills to succeed in colleges and universities.

The other part of this equation has to do with that success. Rising enrollments will mean little if students do not receive the support they need to persist and graduate. At WSU, improving our retention and graduation rates is critical. I know that the leaders and the staff of our Office of Undergraduate Education and our Division of Student Affairs, Equity and Diversity are focused intently on those issues.

Merely enrolling more students is not what we are all about; sending more graduates – well-rounded, rigorously educated graduates – out into the world should be.

So while last week’s enrollment news is, indeed, good news for our university, the true measure of our success won’t be known for four or five years. That’s when we will know if WSU has kept its promise, not just to all those freshmen coming onto our campuses, but also to all the people back in their hometowns who are counting on them. And on us.