Enrollment drop puts focus on retention, recruitment

Trey Crumbie

As the spring semester inches closer, WKU is hoping retention efforts will be up to par.

WKU’s total enrollment for this semester stands at 20,456, down 668 students from the fall of 2012. It is the first time fall enrollment has dropped in 16 years.

Fewer students than expected results in less money from tuition, creating a $1.6 million gap in the university’s budget.

Every spring, enrollment numbers drop from the fall. From the fall of 2012 to the spring of 2013, 1,918 students dropped out of the university. Current four-year graduation rates are at 50.3 percent.

A larger number of students leaving the university than expected could result in another budget shortfall.

Brian Meredith, associate vice president for Enrollment Management, said he wasn’t worried about the drop in enrollment because of the change in admission standards. The university announced over the summer that WKU would be raising admission standards, looking to accept slightly higher qualified students.

President Gary Ransdell said earlier this semester that the average ACT score for incoming freshmen this semester was 22, an increase from 21.4 from last year. Ransdell said it was not a rising trends but a direct result of more selective and higher admission requirements. The average freshmen GPA has also risen from 3.14 to 3.19.

“It’s a process,” Meredith said. “We’re shaping the class.”

Meredith said he feels confident the new admission standards will help WKU in the long run.

“We have a stronger class that came in this fall,” Meredith said. “I feel pretty good about that. I think its part of a greater plan to bring in students that are ready to hit the ground running academically and be successful and also be retained at a higher level.”

Meredith said he doesn’t plan for the drop in enrollment to be a trend for WKU in the near future. Meredith said WKU has changed the way they attract prospective students, including stronger communication, increased recruitment efforts in certain areas and automatically considering students who apply to WKU by a certain date for scholarship money.

“I think if anything we’re going to see some pluses out of these new initiatives,” Meredith said. “We spent in a lot of time and effort into that, so I’m hopeful.”

Despite the increase in enrollment for some universities in Kentucky, such as the University of Kentucky and Murray State University, Meredith said WKU will continue their strategies for attracting students.

“We have our unique strategies here,” Meredith said. “We have a great product to sell here at WKU and we are working to get the brand out in front of more students…”

Sharon Hunter, coordinator of College Readiness and interim co-director of Admissions, said WKU is making sure prospective students are prepared for college while they are in high school.

Hunter said WKU encourages high school students to complete their pre-college curriculum for free while they have the chance.

“We want them to focus on their preparation,” Hunter said. “You don’t want to come to college and pay to take Algebra 2. That’s just not smart.”

Hunter said WKU is also increasing their efforts on retention, including using MAP-Works, a retention software package that contains a survey that is sent to all WKU students, and college success.

“We are looking at the entire range of the enrollment experience,“ Hunter said.

Hunter said WKU will continue to focus on a broad range of students, despite the admissions criteria change.