Webster University’s total student headcount dropped by more than 1,600 students from last year, continuing a five-year decline in enrollment, according to preliminary enrollment data.
Graduate and undergraduate enrollment dropped by 9.5 percent and 6.2 percent respectively between academic year (AY) 2014 to AY 2015. Graduate enrollment fell by 1,348 students, and undergraduate enrollment dropped by 305 students. The numbers come via a publicly-available disclosure to Webster’s bondholders.
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. According to the disclosure, Webster’s current undergraduate headcount is 4,630.
For the first time since 2008-09, undergraduate enrollment dropped by more than 80 students.
Since AY 2010, Webster’s combined undergraduate and graduate enrollment has declined by 4,166, or 23 percent. Graduate enrollment has fallen by 3,904 students while undergraduate enrollment has dropped by 262.
Provost Julian Schuster spoke to faculty about enrollment and the need for new programs at the November’s Faculty Assembly. Some faculty members at the meeting said creating new programs is not the only answer to enrollment declines.
Faculty Senate President Gwyneth Williams said the growing pains of creating new programs while expanding old ones is that not everyone will always agree on the balance of exposure to the programs.
At a 2014 Faculty Assembly, Julian Schuster said 75 percent of Webster’s tuition revenue comes from graduate enrollment, while the remaining 25 percent is made up by undergraduate enrollment. He said 95 percent of Webster’s total revenue is made up of tuition dollars.
Vice President for Enrollment Management Robert Parrent declined to comment and directed The Journal to University Spokesperson Patrick Giblin.
Giblin said the university could not comment on the enrollment numbers until a final tally is completed, with the expected completion date being Dec. 4.
“Until the administration has time to review the final numbers, any comments on the reports would be premature,” Giblin said.
In 2014, Julian Schuster and President Elizabeth Stroble said declining graduate enrollment was the leading cause of a budget shortfall. Webster closed three campuses due to the shortfall.
In a February article of The Journal, Julian Schuster said Webster’s business model had to change after three consecutive years of financial shortfalls. Julian Schuster said the university would have to develop new programs to raise enrollment.
In the same article, Webster Chief Financial Officer Greg Gunderson said some of the university’s expenses are offset by offering fewer courses and hiring fewer adjuncts. He also said cuts made to Webster’s schools submitted by the deans made a major difference in the budget.
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.”
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.”
Enrollment figures are made publicly available on the Electronic Municipal Market Access 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.
According to a November article in the Washington Post, enrollment numbers in the United States have fallen steadily since 2008. Reportedly, enrollment rates for all income levels have decreased in that time.
Williams said the balance between new and old problems is difficult because the amount of exposure the programs get do not always seem to be equal.
Editor’s Note: The Journal is allowed to attend Faculty Assembly upon agreement that no faculty members who speak will be directly quoted or attributed to opinions without permission.