Low spring enrollment creates $880,000 hole in budget

Cameron Koch

The Board of Regents and President Gary Ransdell have reason to be concerned about enrollment, or more specifically, 434 reasons.

An enrollment report delivered by Brian Meredith, vice president for Enrollment Management, at Friday morning’s Board of Regents Committee Meeting revealed 434 fewer students are attending WKU this spring compared to spring 2012, and the university is missing out on vital tuition money as a result.

Total student enrollment this spring is sitting at 19,206, or about 2 percent fewer than last spring’s 19,640. The result is a budget shortfall of $880,000.

Full-time student enrollment continues its downward trend of the last three years as well, losing 291 students, or a drop of about 2.1 percent.

“The enrollment this spring is much like the long-waited spring here in Kentucky,” Meredith said. “It’s slow and deliberant in coming, but it is picking up pace.”

Meredith went on to explain why exactly students didn’t return, or enroll, this spring semester. Fewer Pell Grants were cited as one reason, as well as a change of policy for K-12 teachers in Kentucky that provides another avenue for increased salary benefits without having to take the time or spend the money to receive a master’s degree.

Students seeking master’s degrees dropped 10 percent from spring 2012 to spring 2013, the largest drop of any student demographic.

Another group that saw a dramatic decrease which concerned the board was a drop of 4.2 percent in female student enrollment, resulting in 485 fewer female students this spring than last spring.

“Since the ‘60s, we’ve been pretty steady with a female to male ratio,” Ransdell said. “Seeing a drop in female students…that’s the one surprising piece of the puzzle to me.”

The budget shortfall will be made up by using carry-forward funds from the previous year, Ransdell said.

“This really has our attention,” Ransdell said. “The numbers, last week it was 287, and the final number ended up being 434, it’s been up and down….this is where we ended up.”

Ransdell said the university will begin piecing together its 2013 fiscal year budget based on fall 2011 enrollment numbers rather than the higher fall 2012 numbers, as to avoid another possible budget shortfall. Total enrollment for fall 2011 reached 21,048 students, down 76 students from fall 2012.

“These numbers are the spring to spring,” Ransdell said. “If you look at total enrollment, 19,206, well, our fall enrollment was 21,142, but we graduated a thousand students in December. The fall to fall is the really critical number.”