Washburn adjusts to decline in enrollment

Washburn University reached a record-level number of enrollment in 2011, but that number has dropped due to a decline in Kansas high school graduates.

The university relations office sent an email from President Jerry Farley to all Washburn faculty and staff June 12, 2014 that included details regarding the drop in student enrollment and tuition and its current and coming impacts on the university.

According to the email, university reserve funds were used to compensate for the tuition revenue loss of the 2014 fiscal year. The decline in enrollment has led to a loss of more than $1.3 million in tuition revenue for the 2015 fiscal year, which began July 1, 2014.

“In order to offset this shortfall, a number of very difficult budget decisions are required,” Farley said in the email. “Extensive budget discussions with vice presidents, deans and other administrators began last fall to explore budget alternatives. Based on the extensive discussions, a number of positions will be reduced. Every major academic and administrative area’s budgets will be reduced to offset the loss of tuition revenue.”

Tuition will also be increased by 4.6 percent, or $11 per credit hour for traditional undergraduate courses taken by residents of Kansas.

Richard Liedtke, director of enrollment management, oversees the university registrar’s office, financial aid, the office of admissions, the student service center and new student orientation. These offices have been and are currently developing strategies to increase enrollment.

In the fall of 2011, 7,303 students were enrolled at Washburn making it the highest enrollment record for WU. Enrollment dropped 4.5 percent to 6,973 in fall 2013. Liedtke explained, however, that this is due to a drop in the number of Kansas high school graduates, and that most universities in Kansas are feeling the effects of that drop as well. Liedtke went on to point out that just looking at the two year period of 2011 to 2013 does not give an accurate assessment of Washburn’s overall enrollment pattern.

“Last year was a blip on the radar that you hope you’re not repeating and end up in a downward spiral, and right now we’re not seeing that,” Liedtke said.

Liedtke said that in ’09 Washburn had 611 incoming freshman students. As of 2013, Washburn is at 686.

“So again, if you look at year-to-year, you see this [drop],” said Liedtke. “If you look over the expansion of five years, we’ve had steady growth.”

Between 2001 and 2013, Washburn’s enrollment increased by 14 percent.

After 2016, there is expected to be an a small increase in high school graduates in Kansas, but the demographics of those students are changing. These projections go through the 2019-2020 school year.

“There’s an overall decline in high school graduates in the state of Kansas through 2016, projected,” said Liedtke. “After that, overall, you start seeing a gradual increase, but within that increase we have to look at the demographics of that, because where the increase is in is in Hispanic students. The white student is actually decreasing…The majority of our students, by race and ethnicity, is white and Caucasian. That’s just our majority.”

Kris Klima, director of admissions, and her office focuses on bringing in new students and not so much on retention. She said there are a lot of elements considered when developing recruitment plans.

“There are a lot of different factors,” said Klima. “We do everything from high school visits to college fairs to student programs on campus. I see student programs inviting students for a junior day or a senior day or transfer day. Those types of things.”

Washburn has also instituted an interstate waiver program. With the program, students who graduate from, or who are residents of, Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas can come to Washburn and pay close to in-state tuition. A student must maintain a 3.0 GPA to keep the waiver. This program was put in place to draw in students from surrounding states to combat the lack of Kansas high school graduates.

Klima is also developing a recruitment plan for the shift in high school graduate demographics.

“Students are looking for a lot of different things,” said Klima. “[We’re] trying to identify different ways to reach different demographics. We’re in the process of trying to figure that out. It could be a different communication track. It could be more events on campus. Things like that. So we’re still in the process of solidifying what that looks like for this next year.”

The office of enrollment management and admissions began working on this plan in 2012.

Liedtke said Washburn students can absolutely help increase enrollment.

“[Students’] success helps Washburn University,” said Liedtke. “The more successful our students are on campus and going out and creating opportunities for themselves…is a testament to the university and how good a job they’re doing.”