Enrollment numbers delay budget worries

Cameron Koch

Final spring enrollment numbers bounced back from a below-average start earlier in the semester, putting administrators’ minds at ease.

Enrollment for the spring semester, which included the winter term, landed at 19,640, up 243 students from the enrollment report given on March 23 at the Board of Regents committee meetings.

The news came as a relief for several WKU administrators, who worried what a low spring enrollment could do to WKU’s shrinking budget.

President Gary Ransdell shared in that relief.

“Enrollment is our life’s blood,” Ransdell said. “We are about even with last year. Given this economic environment and all this uncertainty, that is a good thing. It gives us confidence when putting a budget together.”

Ann Mead, vice president for Finance and Administration, said that fewer students than expected is bad news, as fewer students means less money to fund the university.

“If enrollment is down, I have to worry about if we have a balanced budget,” Mead said. “Why didn’t they return? We really need to know why.”

Brian Meredith, associate vice president for Enrollment Management, pointed to the recession and high unemployment rate as key factors in the initial low spring enrollment numbers.

“Part of it is economically driven,” Meredith said. “People are out of pocket. People are challenged right now with the economy.”

Pell grants, money from the federal government to help students pay for college, have also been greatly reduced, hurting students even more, Meredith said.

Fall enrollment reached a new university record of 21,048 students. Numbers typically dip slightly in the spring as some students transfer schools, graduate or choose not to return, Meredith said.

Meredith said that the number of students transferring into WKU usually balances out those leaving.

Ransdell added that some students, unless assisted, simply can’t pay for a college education.

“It’s not a case of being overpriced — it’s more a case of any price at all,” Ransdell said. “There are a lot of families that simply can’t afford any cost, but we have to charge for the services we provide as a university.”

Ransdell agreed with Mead on needing to understand student needs and to help them continue their education. Keeping students not only from the fall to the spring but from freshman to sophomore year is of critical importance, he said.

“Our biggest challenge is retention — we’ve got to keep students from the freshman to the sophomore year,” Ransdell said. “Historically we lose about 25 percent of every freshman class going into their sophomore year. We’ve got to improve on that.

“We’ve got to do everything we can to help our students persist.”