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Baby Boomlet Continues to Boost Enrollment at Washington State Universities


Baby boomers continue to send record numbers of their children to Washington’s public four-year universities, where enrollment is up on most campuses again this year.

Total enrollment for the six schools is 106,375, up 1,891 students since last fall.

Record-breaking freshman classes, expanded branch campuses and better recruitment and retention account for the increase, school officials say.

And a winning basketball team doesn’t hurt, adds Jim Roche, associate vice provost for enrollment services at Washington State University.

WSU’s fall enrollment at its four campuses totals 23,969 up 541 from last fall’s numbers.

Roche gave credit to the baby boom echo, strategic recruiting combined with more financial aid and some enthusiastic participation in the university’s two branch campuses that now accept freshmen and sophomores.

WSU’s three-campus freshman class totals 3,475, the university’s biggest freshman class and hundreds more than its last big class in 2004.

Still, college admissions officers across the state said they expected the baby boom echo’s impact on college enrollment will end within the next three or four years.

Western Washington University’s fall enrollment also includes its largest freshman class, said Karen Copetas, director of admissions and enrollment planning.

Western’s fall enrollment is 13,352, up 373 from last fall’s numbers. That includes 161 more freshman than last year, plus extra students in high demand majors, thanks to supplemental dollars from the Legislature.

“We are almost at our limit in terms of the number of students we can accommodate on our campus,” Copetas said.

Western is looking at moving some of its upper division or special programs to a new waterfront campus in Bellingham.

Several universities Western, the University of Washington and Eastern Washington University mentioned growing diversity on their campuses.

Copetas credits a couple of innovative high school programs for helping bring more students to Washington universities this year. She said the graduates of a number of programs that help students get ready for college and give them higher expectations for themselves are now showing up on campus. These programs have also improved economic and ethnic diversity on campuses.

The Evergreen State College, which normally depends more on transfer students than freshmen, had a record freshman class this fall, with 686 freshman compared to last year’s class of 583.

Evergreen’s total fall enrollment is 4,534, up 176 from last year’s student body, said college spokesman Todd Sprague.

He said the freshman class was the main driver of the college’s enrollment jump, but he also credited recruitment efforts and the way the college has been gaining national visibility for its academic programs and its sustainable campus.

“We’re coming of age,” Sprague said of the state’s youngest four-year university, which enrolled its first students in the early 1970s.

University of Washington enrollment at its three campuses is 44,639 this fall, up 1,211 from fall 2006, with most of the growth at its Bothell and Tacoma branch campuses, as planned by the university and the Legislature, said Philip Ballinger, admissions director.

The freshman class was 5,636 students this year, compared to last year’s record number of 5,760. The 2006 freshman class was so high because more students than expected accepted the university’s offers, university officials said then.

“For our freshman class this year, we purposely set a goal that was lower than last year,” Ballinger said, although the university still admitted more than its goal.

He said the university continues to see sharp increases in freshmen applications each year and the quality of those applicants continues to be strong, with higher test scores and grade point averages.

Central Washington University and Eastern Washington University were not talking about records this year, in part because their student head counts from 2006 were record-breaking.

Central’s fall enrollment of 10,040 decreased by 246 students this year to get back on its normal trend path, said spokeswoman Becky Watson.

“We knew this would happen this year. We knew we were in a spike,” she said, adding that last year’s enrollment included a record freshman class and a jump in transfers from community colleges.

Central’s freshman enrollment showed a tiny increase, to a new record of 1,474 students. Transfer students are down and enrollment at the university’s six off-campus student centers increased to 1,710 students.

Eastern Washington saw its overall enrollment drop by 164 to 9,841 students this fall. A drop in freshmen enrollment makes up most of the difference. One area where Eastern enrollment has increased is in its graduate school programs.

“If you look at the five-year trend, we’re still doing good,” said university spokesman Dave Meany.

He said Eastern officials think the slight drop in enrollment does not necessarily represent a trend, but they also have noticed a drop in high school enrollment in the school’s main feeder area, Spokane County.

“We’re launching a new recruiting and retention effort,” Meany said. “We feel like we’ve had great momentum in recent years with enrollment and we don’t want to lose that.”

–Associated Press

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