Colleges across the US have experienced a decline in enrollment since the fall of 2019. Western Washington University is no exception.
At the beginning of the fall quarter in 2019, Western had 16,142 enrolled students, according to enrollment details data from the Office of Institutional Effectiveness. This number had been steadily increasing since 2012. However, only 15,197 students were enrolled in the fall of 2020 and only 15,125 students the following year.
Whatcom Community College has been experiencing a similar decline in enrollment since 2017 when they had 5,305 students. 4,010 students were enrolled for the fall quarter of 2021, according to their Student Headcount and FTE data.
Whatcom Community College did not respond to comment.
Shorecrest High School senior Sasha Chiecsek has decided not to attend college this coming fall.
“The only post-high school education that would really make sense for me would be a film program or something like that,” he said. “From what I have seen, however, the stuff that comes out of most American film and music schools is incredibly underwhelming.”
Student enrollment at Western plays an important role in determining how programs are funded around campus. A 1% change in enrollment is equal to approximately $900,000 dollars to the university, Faye Gallant, the Executive Director of Budget and Financial Planning at Western, said.
“Western has buffered enrollment declines during the pandemic with short-term federal stimulus funding and also reduced budgets by 3% temporarily during FY21, July 2020 through June 2021,” Gallant said. “During periods of significant enrollment growth, growth in tuition revenue has funded new faculty lines, new student support positions and necessary infrastructure.”
Funding each academic year at Western is based on a base budget. This budget covers necessary existing operations. They then use the budget to plan for any new funding that is needed.
Student tuition and state funding support some of the core services at Western such as instruction, advising, student support and safety, Gallant said.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused many students to take a pause from school. Other students, like Bailey Jacobson who graduated from Western in 2021, take gap years to find financial stability and look out for personal well-being.
“I wanted to save money for graduate school, so it was mostly a financial decision,” Jacobson said. “But mostly I wanted to take a gap year between undergraduate and graduate because I was burnt out from being a student.”
“Gen Z people are acutely aware of the rising cost of higher education,” Chiecsek said. “Most of my friends plan on starting at community colleges because they know that four years at a university would cost way too much for them in the long run.”
Western and its Board of Trustees assess undergraduate in-state tuition based on median wages in Washington. Tuition for the students cannot increase more than wages do. For other students, such as out-of-state and graduate students, tuition is assessed on affordability and access, Gallant said.
“My friends are more or less supportive of [not attending college],” Chiecsek said. “Some of them have voiced general concern about the instability that I am possibly creating for myself, which of course is understandable. You can’t blame someone for wanting financial stability for themselves and others.”
Simone Higashi (she/her) is a third-year News Editorial student and senior reporter for The Front. Simone likes to knit and read in her free time. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.