WKU sees continued drop in enrollment

Emily DeLetter

WKU has reported a 3 percent decrease in total enrollment, according to the Fall 2017 Enrollment Report provided by the Office of Institutional Research.

Enrollment has continued to decline since 2012, from a peak enrollment of approximately 19,500 during the fall 2012 semester to the current total enrollment of approximately 17,200.

Sharon Hunter, director of strategic enrollment management and retention support, said one reason enrollment was down was because of affordability. Students couldn’t afford to pay their tuition bill and weren’t allowed to register for the next semester, which in turn did not allow them to return to WKU, Hunter said.

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The current rate for a full-time, in-state resident to attend WKU is approximately $5,100 per semester.

Associate vice president for enrollment management Brian Meredith said the challenge was not because WKU is not affordable, but because of the many other financial pressures students face.

“WKU has a very affordable tuition compared to other schools across Kentucky,” Meredith said. “Students and families are still bearing that cost of higher education and billing in general, regardless of where they are.”

Meredith said while the economy has improved, it has not necessarily trickled down to families trying to figure out how they are going to pay for college.

“More of the burden of the financials in funding higher education has been on the backs of the families paying tuition,” Meredith said.

Total international enrollment also dropped by 28.8 percent. International students pay an international tuition rate to attend WKU, which is around $13,000 a semester. Meredith said one reason for the decline has to do with global politics, and added that many institutions across the United States have reported a similar decline in numbers.

WKU is continuing several initiatives to help improve recruitment efforts. The Office of Admissions has expanded their recruitment regions and territories, including an expanse in participation in the National Association for College Admission Counseling Fair, or NACAC.

Regional receptions are hosted by WKU all over the state and in several cities such as Nashville, Tennessee, St. Louis, Missouri and Cincinnati, Ohio.

“If you look at the WKU events page you can see recruiting events, and it will name a couple of different states and cities in Kentucky,” Hunter said. “That has been something that has been going on for months.”

WKU also offers the Tuition Incentive Program to qualified undergraduate students who are residents of specific counties in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas, according to its website.

Full-time students attending WKU through TIP pay around $6,700 a semester, which is slightly higher than in-state tuition but significantly lower than an out of state tuition fee.

“[TIP] allows us to market and be in those areas that we might not have been before and be competitive,” Meredith said. “Sometimes schools within those states are more expensive than our TIP rates, which is very meaningful to families trying to find a way to pay for college.”

The recruitment budget has also increased over the past two years through one-time funding for yielding events. WKU Enrollment Management and WKU itself have infused one-time support into the office of admissions to do yielding events and activities.

“There’s a whole yielding recruitment plan that once a student is admitted and comes to orientation, we continue the conversation and keep them excited about WKU so that other schools we’re competing with don’t have an edge,” Meredith said.

While total enrollment for WKU is down, enrollment from students transferring from two-year schools to WKU has improved. Students transferring from Kentucky Community and Technical College System schools rose 3.1 percent and 21.5 percent from Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College.

“The key initiative is to invest in transfer students,” Meredith said. “Not only financially through partial scholarships, but through our time with recruiters and the advisers helping them make that transition.”

Meredith said WKU is trying to invest in students that will invest back into the institution, particularly through the recently remarketed scholarship program. Beginning three years ago, more partial scholarships ranging from $2,000 to $4,000 are being given to students through a merit-based scholarship program.

“In turn, that will turn our retention challenges around by seeing more of those students come in with support by WKU,” Meredith said.

Reporter Emily DeLetter can be reached at 270-745-6011 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @emilydeletter.