Enrollment strategies to impact Fall 2023 semester

Dear WSU Community,

As we look to the year ahead, I remain committed to improving transparency around our system-wide decision-making and the priorities that will impact our financial health. I understand there is a need to know more about how the university is bringing in revenue and allocating funds — particularly given recent budget reductions. This message will address some of the recent questions I’ve received and will serve as the first in a series of communications detailing efforts to improve the fiscal health of WSU.

What challenges are we facing?

One of Washington State University’s primary sources of revenue is the tuition we receive from enrolled students. The graduation of some of our largest classes to date (those who started at WSU in 2018 and 2019) means that more students are graduating even as fewer are enrolling, and we are working with fewer dollars than we have before. In a letter I sent during the fall semester, I described several new initiatives we are undertaking to help stabilize enrollment across the WSU system. As we work toward building our fall 2023 classes, we are continuing to modify our enrollment management practices in an increasingly competitive enrollment environment.

What are we doing about it?

At the start of this application cycle, Enrollment Management (EM) enabled first-year students to apply to WSU using the Common App for the first time in our history. As a result, there has been a significant increase in the total number of applications received across the system — especially in non-resident applications. Looking at year-over-year comparisons, there has been a 59.3% increase in non-resident applications system-wide. These numbers are encouraging, but additional work is required to ensure those applicants become confirmed Cougs by next fall.

The interest from out-of-state applicants presents a unique opportunity for WSU to extend its offerings. To support interested non-residents in their decision to choose WSU, I recently invested in an expansion of our Western Undergraduate Exchange tuition waiver (WUE). Under the expanded policy, all non-resident students with high school grade point averages above 3.0 may be eligible to receive up to $11,000 in awards. The expansion aims to improve accessibility and strategically leverage financial aid to secure more commitments and subsequent revenue in the long term.

Given the number of out-of-state applicants applying to their campuses, WSU Pullman and WSU Tri‑Cities are committed to pursuing this strategy and have already begun coordinating targeted communications to eligible students and their families. The other campuses will ultimately decide whether this expansion makes sense for their recruitment efforts and budgets.

In addition to expanding the WUE policy, we have made several selective investments of nearly $500,000 in one-time funds to assist Enrollment Management with landing a robust class of undergraduates for fall 2023. EM will put these resources towards hiring additional full-time admission staff and providing overtime and temporary pay to keep up with the increase in applications.

Research shows students enroll at higher rates when they receive a prompt decision. These funds will improve admissions processing and better support enrollment teams that have been working around the clock to secure the next class of Cougs; through onsite and on-the-spot admission programming, frequent visits to transfer institutions, and hosting fall preview days at each of our five campus locations. With the increased exposure and staff, EM can better meet potential students wherever they may be.

While we wait to see the impact these changes will have on final fall 2023 enrollment, these initiatives will better support the WSU system in the years to come.

Projections for fall 2023 enrollment

Enrollment Management, in collaboration with Institutional Research, has provided estimates for our incoming classes across the WSU system for the Fall 2023 Semester.

For the Pullman campus, we expect between 3,200–3,250 first-year students; for the Vancouver campus, a range of 350–400 first-year students; and for the Tri‑Cities campus, a range of 180–205 first-year students. These numbers do not include transfer students and will be finalized in the coming weeks. The projected class sizes are purposely conservative estimates and suggest that new enrollment will be essentially flat compared with the Fall 2022 classes.

A lot can change between now and August as families and students make decisions about where they will enroll for the fall semester. We will provide an additional update on enrollment projections in several months.

How can you help?

While recruitment is an essential component to the success of our university, so is retaining every eligible Coug across the system. Each of you contributes to that effort — whether that involves keeping our facilities up and running, advising incoming students, or providing a supportive classroom environment. Your work has a direct impact on the Cougar experience.

For those looking to provide additional support to ongoing efforts across the system, you can remind students to complete the FAFSA or WAFSA, volunteer to participate in recruitment and yield events, or just take time to interact with students and families that may be touring your campus. A kind word, a “Go Cougs!,” or simply giving directions can go a long way in helping students and their families choose WSU.

For more specifics on how you can support the Cougar community, do not hesitate to get in touch with admissions staff posted at your campus or college.

Looking ahead

I recognize the challenges our campuses, colleges, and units are facing. While there is no guaranteed path to success, I know that our enrollment will play a large part in it.

During this time of change, I am immensely grateful for your support and the expertise of our colleagues in Enrollment Management, Institutional Research, and Finance and Administration. These decisions are not made in a bubble, and the implications of these decisions will not be constrained to one. We all have a part to play in realizing the future of Washington State University.

Thank you for your continued engagement. I will provide another update on our fiscal health in the next few weeks, but please feel free to reach out to me with any questions, suggestions, or comments you have in the meantime.

President, WSU System