Fall enrollment at Wichita State University dropped by 348 students from last fall’s number, to 14,550, a 2.3 percent decrease, the Kansas Board of Regents announced Friday.
Statewide, enrollment at all public higher education institutions dropped 2,504 students, or 1.33 percent, the regents said.
WSU President John Bardo said Friday that he recently made a decision regarding scholarships that he knew would drop the university’s headcount. The payoff, he said, will be higher enrollment later.
Moreover, he said, there are numbers that reveal more about WSU than the official enrollment count. For example, he said, the numbers of freshmen, juniors, seniors and graduate students all went up.
And WSU just set a record for the number of credit hours being taken: 161,922 for this fall semester, 79 more than fall 2012.
No president wants to see a drop in enrollment, but with guest students, part-time students, community college transfer students and adult learners coming and going every year, most universities put more stock in the credit-hour number than the headcount, Bardo said.
“It’s like when you run a store,” he said. “You’re not as interested in the number of customers as you are in the amount of sales.”
Bardo, president since last year, said he noticed soon after he got here that WSU was paying scholarships to local high school “guest students” to take courses at the university while still in high school.
It was a nice idea, he said, but he noticed that most of these students after high school graduation were either not going to college, or going to college elsewhere, and transferring their WSU credits to other places.
“It was an expensive way to conduct recruiting,” he said. “We were paying full freight for people who never came here.”
What his scholarship decision means, besides a temporary drop in enrollment, he said, “is that I now have half a million dollars in scholarship money I can give to people who really want to come here.”
Statewide, regarding enrollment, there were universities that gained (Emporia State, Kansas State, Pittsburg State) and there were universities that lost enrollment (the University of Kansas and WSU).
Emporia State produced the biggest enrollment percentage of increase: 2.83 percent, 166 more students than last fall. In a statement released by that university on Friday, leaders attributed the success to an improved marketing campaign and hard work across the board by everyone there.
Mary Jane Stankiewicz, from the Board of Regents, said the reasons for the increases and decreases are as varied as each university is in population and mission. Overall, she said, higher education institutions tend to increase enrollment after a crisis like the recession that began in 2008. And some of them tend to see losses in enrollment after the economy improves, as it has slightly improved in Kansas since 2008, she said.