While total enrollment numbers have been steadily increasing for WKU, the number of full-time students enrolled has continued to decline.

The number decreased by 66 students from 16,943 in fall 2011 to 16,877 in fall 2012, according to the enrollment report. Full-time enrollment peaked at 17,000 in fall 2010 and has continued to decrease each year, despite total enrollment increasing.

President Gary Ransdell said the loss isn’t alarming but is definitely a “signal” the university is tracking.

“I think the economy has affected two things: the number of students who show up knowing they’re not going to be able to pay the bill, and the number of students who choose not to show up,” Ransdell said. “The irony is as the economy gets better, we may find some people that would choose not to come because they may feel like getting a college degree isn’t that important because they can get a job without one.”

Ransdell said lower retention isn’t specific to WKU, and is affecting universities around the nation.

Brian Meredith, associate vice president of Enrollment Management, said he also thinks the economy plays a big role in whether students continue with college or move on to a job.

“I think a few of the students are choosing two-year alternatives, and some are having to work,” he said. “It’s not completely scientific, but it’s a trend I’m seeing as I’m talking with students.”

Meredith said as the economy rebounds, he predicts the number of full-time students at WKU will decrease and then level off.

Jessica Staten, assistant director of the Academic Advising and Retention Center, said retention drops can also be attributed to new federal government regulations on financial aid.

“While the previous guidelines allowed for more students to be retained it did not assist in increasing the graduation rates of many institutions,” Staten said in an email. “There are always non-academic factors which prohibit students from persisting to graduation. However, I attribute the recent decline to the changes in the financial aid regulations.”

Meredith said these factors have challenged the recently formed Retention Task Force, created to help enrollment at WKU.

“The challenge is out there for the Retention Task Force to be creative,” Meredith said. “Everything is on the table .”

Sharon Hunter, coordinator for developmental education with Enrollment Management, said data analysis is another crucial part of developing retention strategies.

“Once we get that data (fall 2012 numbers), we’ll be able to figure out which students didn’t come back, what that non-returning student looked like, if there were programmatic changes that need to be made. All of that is data driven. We don’t want to assume anything,” Hunter said.