State universities bursting at the seams

Associated Press

SPOKANE — Five of the six state universities in Washington are reporting record enrollments this fall, as the children of baby boomers reach college age at the same time a slowing economy has older people returning to classes.

Fall enrollment figures for the University of Washington, the state’s largest university, are expected to be released next week.

But Washington State, Western Washington, Eastern Washington, Central Washington and The Evergreen State College all have record numbers of students on campus.

"The college is bursting at the seams," said Thomas Purce, president of Olympia-based Evergreen State, who used the news to push for more classroom space.

"The downturn in the economy and the larger student body dramatize the critical need," Purse said Thursday. Evergreen reported fall enrollment of 4,223.

At Western Washington University in Bellingham, there are a record 11,743 full-time equivalent students this fall, up from 11,694 the year before. The school also received a record 6,850 applications for admissions.

Central Washington University in Ellensburg and its six off-campus centers reported enrollment of 7,980 full-time equivalent students, up 4.7 percent from last year’s 7,625 students, the school said this week. The enrollment passed the previous high of 7,935 students in 1996.

"This is an incredible achievement and a cause for celebration," CWU President Jerilyn McIntyre said. "Faculty and staff helped in so many ways to recruit students for this fall."

Central’s freshman class was also the largest in school history and one of its most academically talented. There are 1,256 freshmen on the Ellensburg campus, up from 1,093 last year.

"Nobody in the state has experienced a larger percentage growth in their freshman class than we have," Mike Reilly, CWU admissions director, said. "A larger percentage of our freshman class was above a 3.5 grade point average in high school than we’ve ever seen."

Eastern Washington University in Cheney reported 8,755 full-time equivalent students, up 336 from 8,419 last year. The freshman enrollment of 1,199 is also the highest ever.

It’s the fourth consecutive year of growth at Eastern, which a few years ago was in danger of being merged with Washington State University because of falling enrollment.

Eastern’s minority enrollment also showed growth, rising from 10.8 percent last fall to 11 percent this fall. Minorities made up 14 percent of incoming freshmen.

However, the terrorist attacks on the East Coast are likely responsible for a plunge in enrollment of international students, particularly from Middle East countries, EWU officials said.

The number of international students is down to 218 from 278 a year ago. Enrollment from Middle Eastern countries declined from 69 last fall to 20 this year.

"The decline we and other universities are experiencing certainly reflects the current situation in the world," said William Ponder, associate vice president for enrollment at EWU.

Last month, Washington State University reported record enrollment of 21,794 at its Pullman campus and three branches. The fall enrollment was a 2.5 percent boost from last year’s 21,248 students. About 13 percent of students are minorities.

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