By Donna Gordon Blankinship Associated Press
SEATTLE — Despite a drop-off in the number of kids graduating from high school in Washington, enrollment is up by roughly 800 students overall at Washington’s six public universities this fall.
The University of Washington, Western Washington University and Eastern Washington University are all reporting increases in students, with UW and Western reporting their largest freshman classes ever. Washington State University, Central Washington University and the Evergreen State College are reporting small decreases in fall enrollment.
Philip Ballinger, UW’s director of admissions for more than a decade, said he couldn’t come up with a scientific explanation for why the state’s most expensive and most competitive public university also remains one of its most popular.
Not only is UW’s undergraduate enrollment at the Seattle campus up by more than 900 students — from 27,838 in fall 2012 to 28,754 this fall — but enrollment is also up significantly at its Bothell and Tacoma branch campuses. UW’s freshman class numbers 6,255 this fall, compared to 6,049 in 2012.
“We’ve certainly been bucking the demographic trend in the state in terms of the resident applications we’ve received,” Ballinger said.
The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education reports Washington has been seeing fewer high school graduates since the population peaked at 71,000 in 2010.
EWU President Rodolfo Arevalo credits improved student retention, relatively low tuition and an increase in transfer students for a record enrollment for the fifth year in a row, with 200 more students this fall.
Western officials made an intentional choice to increase the number of freshman after several years of record-breaking graduation numbers.
Because applications continue to come in at record levels, Western did not need to lower its admission standards to reach its goal of more freshmen, Clara Capron, assistant vice president of enrollment and student services, said. The school saw an enrollment increase of 117 students.
The three other Washington four-year schools offered a variety of reasons for slight enrollment declines.
WSU numbers are down, but mostly because last year’s numbers were so high. The school is reporting its second-highest enrollment in history with 27,111 students across WSU’s four campuses, a drop of 123 students from fall 2012.
Central Washington University has 70 more freshmen this year but 211 fewer undergraduates overall, because of a drop in the number of returning sophomores, said CWU spokeswoman Linda Schactler.
She blamed new, more stringent academic rules for the state need grant, a scholarship program for low-income students, for the decrease in continuing students.
The Evergreen State College admitted 25 fewer freshmen and eight fewer transfer students this fall and total enrollment was down by 92 students. Steve Hunter, associate vice president for enrollment, said lower high school graduation numbers hit Evergreen twice because the school gets about 60 percent of its students as transfers from community colleges.
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