Board of Regents discusses drop in spring enrollment

Cameron Koch

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

An enrollment report delivered by Brian Meredith, vice president for Enrollment Management, at the Friday morning 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.

Student enrollment this spring is down about 2 percent, sitting at 19,206, down from 19,640 students the same time last spring and creating an $880,000 budget shortfall.

“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 example, as well as a change of policy for K-12 teachers in Kentucky that provides another avenue for teachers to gain 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.

“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.”

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

Ransdell said the university will be putting together its budget for fiscal year 2013 based on fall 2011 enrollment numbers.

Concern over the low enrollment numbers wasn’t the only topic of the Board Meetings.

SGA President Cory Dodds, with the support of Faculty Regent Patricia Minter, expressed concern over academic fees, asking for the board at its next quarterly meeting to take an in depth look at the additional money students pay outside of regular tuition, such as course fees and application fees.

Ransdell was hesitant, preferring the discussion take place over the summer during the Regent Retreat due to what he said was the complexity of the issue and the amount of time such a discussion would take.

Dodds said it didn’t seem appropriate to approve the fiscal year 2013 budget without first looking at the fees, and began to move forward with a vote to place the item on the agenda for April 26’s Quarterly Meeting.

Deborah Wilkins, general counsel and chief of staff, interrupted the discussion. She said such a discussion, not included on the agenda for the meeting, was not allowed to be discussed or acted upon in Committee Meetings. She advised that topics can be freely discussed at quarterly meetings, or that if a person wished to place an item on the agenda that such a person needs to communicate with Ransdell or the hair of the board, Frederick Higdon, beforehand. The board heeded her advice and ceased discussion.

Ransdell also delivered his preliminary budget and proposed a 5 percent tuition increase to the board for discussion.

A tuition increase will be approved at the April 26 board meeting, after the Council on Postsecondary Education approves the maximum rate tuition can increase for all Kentucky public universities. Ransdell said he fears the CPE won’t approve a maximum of 5 percent tuition hike, due to the University of Kentucky proposing to raise their tuition only 3 percent, but at the same time, laying off faculty and staff.

“We should not be optimistic about the CPE approving a 5 percent tuition increase,” Ransdell said. “A lower cap and we will have to have a budget reduction.

Numerous other items were also addressed in the more than three-hour long session, including a campus security presentation by WKU Police Chief Robert Deane.