An interactive view of Webster University's campus.
Enrollment falls for sixth year in a row by nearly 1,600 students
Webster University’s enrollment has dropped for the sixth year in a row. According to the university’s 2016 Annual Audited Financials and Operating Data document, Webster’s total headcount dropped by 1,543, or eight percent, this year.
According to the audit, graduate enrollment dropped by 1,320 students, from 12,751 in 2015 to 11,431. Undergraduate enrollment decreased by 223 students, from 4,630 in 2015 to 4,407. The decline in graduate and undergraduate enrollment this year was not as large as the decline from 2014 to 2015.
Last year, The Journal reported graduate and undergraduate enrollment dropped by 9.5 percent and 6.2 percent respectively between academic year (AY) 2014 and AY 2015. Graduate enrollment fell by 1,348 students, and undergraduate enrollment dropped by 305 students that year.
The Journal requested comment on the enrollment decline from the university, but did not receive a response by press time. The Journal will update this story with a university response when it is available.
Since 2011, total graduate enrollment has decreased by 4,162, a steady downward trend year-by-year. Undergraduate enrollment has dropped by 539, but has varied in spikes and drops in enrollment.
Webster’s total headcount has steadily decreased each year since 2011, when the university’s total student headcount tallied 20,989 students. Currently, according to the university, there are a total of 15,838 students, a total loss of 5,151.
Currently, full-time students make up 58 percent of Webster’s total student headcount. Full-time enrollment at Webster has decreased with the undergraduate and graduate headcount. Since 2011, full-time enrollment has dropped by roughly 23 percent.
In 2016, 37 percent of students who were accepted to Webster ultimately enrolled at the university. Out of 2,630 students who applied, 1,225 were accepted and 456 actually enrolled.
According to the audit’s full-time faculty report, the number of tenured faculty raised from 58 faculty members to 73, while probationary faculty dropped from 46 to 39.
Webster Provost Julian Schuster said more undergraduate students enrolled this year than the university budgeted for, while some segments of graduate enrollment, such as military and online enrollment, also remain strong.
“Undergraduate is on budget or slightly up, and graduate is on budget or maybe a little bit down,” Schuster said in October.
In 2012, Webster aimed to increase undergraduate enrollment to 5,000 students by 2020 through its master plan. To reach that goal, undergraduate enrollment would have needed to increase by two percent each year until 2020.
Schuster said Webster’s administration has an open and constructive dialogue with students and faculty about enrollment and will continue adapting its vision to a changing environment.
“Webster University will always pride itself on being nimble and entrepreneurial. It is deeply ingrained in Webster University’s ethos,” Schuster said.
In a December 2015 article of The Journal, School of Communications faculty member Joe Schuster said Webster should focus on cultivating the strong programs that already exist at the university.
“The answers can’t always be to build something new,” Joe Schuster said. “Developing new programs is always important, but it can’t be the only thing we do.”
In the same article, then Faculty Senate President Williams said balance is needed for new and old programs.
“I don’t see it as an either/or situation. If you look at the history of higher education, there are certain things that have been seen as constant,” Williams said. “There are other things that clearly change, like computer science, film and graphic design.”
According to a November article in the Washington Post, college enrollment numbers in the United States have fallen steadily since 2008. Reportedly, enrollment rates for all income levels have decreased in that time.
At a 2016 Faculty Assembly meeting, Julian Schuster said 75 percent of Webster’s tuition revenue comes from graduate enrollment, while 25 percent is made up by undergraduate enrollment. He said 95 percent of Webster’s total revenue is made up of tuition dollars.
The Journal acquired Webster’s 2016 Enrollment figures through its Annual Audited Financials and Operating Data document, which is made publicly available on the Electronic Municipal Market Access (EMMA) website. The site allows investors to look at financial filings and keep track of significant developments in their holdings. Webster uploaded the document on Nov. 11.