College of education enrollment drops, healthcare majors increase over the last 10 years

This story is the first in a series about enrollment and budgets for the different colleges at WKU. Make sure to pick up next week’s edition of the Herald or check in online to read part two.

When Ronnie Weissend’s mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of cancer, in 2012, his family began spending a lot of time in hospitals.

“She was in and out of hospitals hundreds and hundreds of times,” Weissend said of his mom.

Weissend, now a junior from Flint, Michigan, said it was there, seeing how the doctors and nurses interacted with his mother, that made him consider a career in nursing.

“When it came down to the people who had the biggest effect on her mood, it was always nurses,” Weissend said. “Doctors come in for a minute, check on you and tell you what’s going on, but the nurses are there all the time.”

Weissend said when his mom entered home hospital care, it was the nurse who came to their home to care for her who further inspired him to pursue a career in nursing.

“The home health nurse was really, really awesome when it came to making my mom feel comfortable or making us feel comfortable, and that’s pretty much why,” Weissend said.

As a nursing major, Weissend is enrolled in the college that has seen the largest growth in the last 10 years, the College of Health and Human Services. Enrollment in CHHS has grown nearly 32 percent since 2007 or by over 1,100 students, according to data from the WKU Fact Book and public records requests made by the Herald.

The College of Health and Human Services is the largest college at WKU, with 4,703 students currently enrolled, according to public records. CHHS was previously the second-largest college, behind Potter College of Arts and Letters.

Weissend said being enrolled in a CHHS major has been challenging, but the school’s high expectations help create successful graduates.

“The classes are just kind of on a different level,” Weissend said. “Just because … you’re there for nursing, that’s what you’re learning. You’re not getting your basic stuff out of the way, so they kind of have high expectations. I love it, though.”

Danita Kelley, associate dean of CHHS, was contacted for comment but did not respond in time for publication.

Ogden College of Science and Engineering has also seen an increase in enrollment, growing nearly 26 percent, or by over 700 students, since 2007.

Other colleges, however, have seen sharp declines in their enrollment. The College of Education and Behavioral Sciences has seen a nearly 34 percent drop in enrollment, or 1,141 fewer students enrolled, according to data from the WKU Fact Book and public records requests made by the Herald.

Sam Evans, dean of CEBS, said there has been a nationwide drop in enrollment in education programs by about one-third. Evans attributed this drop to changes in the job market.

“As the market changes, job opportunities change with that,” Evans said.

Evans said one of the main reasons why there is less interest in entering the education field is money. According to a study done by Education Week, a survey of more than 500 kindergarten through 12th grade teachers listed salary as the top reason why they would “remain or leave their current job.” The second-highest response was “school climate.”

Evans also cited this as a top reason why interest in education as a profession has changed.

“What that really indicates, the demands placed upon teachers are so great that they’re finding it difficult to do what they feel they really need to be able to do and that is help kids be successful,” Evans said.

The same survey from Education Week asked, “What should districts do differently to find and hire high-quality teachers?” The largest response, 36 percent, answered “improve pay and benefits.”

Evans said along with those two reasons, a strong economy means that individuals who may have become teachers are pursuing higher paying jobs, like jobs in healthcare fields. Evans said CEBS remains a strong college that is producing “quality” and “passionate” graduates.

“There’s a tremendous need for high-quality people, and the only thing we have to market is quality,” Evans said. “And we are putting out a very good product within the college.”

When Carolina Escobar moved to Bowling Green from California when she was 10, she said it was her fifth grade teacher who helped make the transition easier.

“It was just like a really big culture shock to me,” Escobar said. “So my fifth grade teacher was actually the person that inspired me because she basically changed my whole life and … motivated me.”

Escobar, now a senior and elementary education major, said she hopes she can do that for someone as well.

“I just really want to inspire someone and change someone’s life, if that makes sense,” Escobar said.

Escobar said she has found being part of CEBS to be “really helpful,” including assisting her with scholarships.

“It’s a good program,” Escobar said. “I really enjoy it, and I would love for more people to join into it.”

Potter College of Arts and Letters, while remaining one of the top-enrolled colleges, has seen a drop in enrollment as well. Since 2007, their enrollment has dropped over 24 percent, according to data from the WKU Fact Book and public records.

Students enrolled in exploratory or other areas have declined by over 44 percent from 2007, with 779 students in that area to 433 in 2016. Information from fall 2017 enrollment in the exploratory program was not included with the records provided to the Herald.

Brian Meredith, chief enrollment officer at WKU, was contacted for comment but did not respond in time for publication.

According to the fall 2017 enrollment report, WKU’s enrollment was 20,267, down 10 students from the previous fall. WKU’s enrollment has been declining since fall 2012, when enrollment was 21,124. However, WKU has also seen shifts in the makeup of students enrolled.

In fall 2017, there were 2,861 high school or dual-credit students enrolled at WKU, an increase of 499 students over the previous fall, according to the fall 2017 enrollment report. Enrollment in masters programs at WKU also decreased this year by 5.3 percent, or 107 fewer students from the 2016 fall semester, according to the enrollment report.

Evans said the decrease in graduate students also goes along with national trends.

“We’re right in there as far as the trend when you think about professional education,” Evans said. “And it doesn’t just impact our college, it impacts other colleges on campus as well.”

Print managing editor Monica Kast can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @monica_kast.