Undergraduate enrollment declines 4.06%

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According to the data release which came out last Tuesday, Western’s enrollment numbers have fallen; however, this wasn’t unexpected.

The numbers in the fall, 2013 release show that enrollment of undergraduates is down by 4.06%.

After coming off of a several year enrollment high, the falling numbers were not a shock to most. Associate Dean of Enrollment, Tyson Shank explains:

“It was, and actually we came out, a little bit better than we thought, than what we budgeted for I guess,” he said. “We kind of budgeted for the worst case scenario.”

The data shows that we are currently at 5,644 enrolled; down from 5,903 the previous year; and 6,135 in fall of 2011; which was the highest enrollment year in the past five years. Shank explains how enrollment levels react opposite of most businesses when change occurs in the economy:

“When every other company is going down, we’re going up,” he said. “Because, more people are trying to go back if they get laid off they are coming back to kind of retool and re-gear for a different position. So typically, colleges and universities, particularly in urban areas like we are, and metropolitan areas, then we see an upshift in enrollment. And then when the economy starts to improve we start to slide back down.”

Provost, Jeanne Daffron, says that this drop in enrollment is due to a couple of reasons including older students opting to go back to the workforce with the strengthening economy, and a decline in high school graduation rates.

“About 25% of our student enrollment includes those age 25 and over, so that does have a very definite impact, and the number of graduating high school students does have an impact; and so it was kind of the perfect storm I guess when you see a decrease in both of those populations,” she said. “But we were up a little bit in graduate and up a little bit in international.”

With our push to, and success in, getting record amounts of international students at Western, it does help to soften the decline.

Along with international students, our growing graduate program is also pulling in more students.

The trend of lower graduation numbers from high schools has affected our enrollment numbers, but it’s not specific to just Missouri. Shank explains:

“The enrollment numbers are really consistent with what we are seeing in national trends,” he said. “The overall high school population of graduating high school students is actually going down by about 3% in the state of Missouri; about 2% in Kansas; about three or 4% in Nebraska and so all around the Midwest we have fewer students graduating from high schools which gives us a smaller pool of students to draw from.”

On top of that, the changes in A+ funding are also making it a little bit more difficult.

“Plus, with the A+ program going away, our ability to offer for students to use their A+ funds, we are thinking, from what we can tell, it looks like about 2% of our decline from our direct from high school market is related to that as well,” Shank said.

The decrease was expected and so it was successfully budgeted for. Daffron also believes the changes in enrollment are just part of a trend.

“I would anticipate, really, that we would level off,” she said. “We had those huge increases, and so when you have that kind of increase you kind of expect to fall back a little into kind of a stable pattern.”

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