Webster University experiences drop in new student enrollment


Due to COVID-19, Webster could not send representatives to high schools last year. This fall, 593 new students enrolled at the university.

As the school year comes back around for the university, so do the students who occupy it–or the lack thereof.

According to Webster University’s archived enrollment records, freshman enrollment numbers have been shrinking for a while.

“More than half of all universities have reported enrollment declines in the past decade, creating new challenges for all institutions,” Webster University’s Director of Public Relations Patrick Giblin said.

The decline can be traced back to 2009, when the university hit its peak overall enrollment amount at 21,317 students at the Webster Groves campus. Fast forward a decade later, and the number shrank to 13,471, a 37% decrease.

However, Joanna Finch, Associate Vice President of New Student Enrollment, said people shouldn’t worry about the decline.

“We have too many things in place that will allow us to keep enrollment fine,” Finch said.

According to Finch, the university has several major initiatives when it comes to getting people enrolled.

One such initiative is sending admissions representatives on trips to spread Webster’s name at high schools. Unfortunately, Finch said the university couldn’t send representatives last year due to COVID-19.

“The fall before COVID hit, we were able to go out to the high schools like we normally would. What concerned me was not being able to go out last year to recruit at all,” Finch said. “That’s how I knew this year would be a lot lower.”

For the 2021 academic year, the Office of Admissions specifically aimed to enroll 500 first-year and 200 transfer students. The university did not hit that goal, reaching only 593 new students.

This number is split into three categories: first-year students, transfer students and online students. Of the 593 new students: There are 352 first-year students, 178 transfers students and 63 online students.

Graphic by Cas Waigand.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions slowly being lifted, the admissions team can get back on the road this year.

Along with spreading awareness to attract incoming students, Finch said Webster offers students an affordable option.

“When it comes to recruitment of students, we’ve done quite a bit to help with scholarships,” Finch said. “Even though we’re a private school, Webster does a good job at being affordable – especially compared to other private schools.”

The national average tuition cost for a college education is $40,793. Webster University’s is $28,600. Along with a lower than average tuition, according to Webster University’s financial aid website, over 440 students are supported by scholarships.

The remaining concern now is how will Webster University offset the inevitable financial impact of the declining student presence currently? Giblin notes that Webster is able to come up with solutions for the challenge.

“In response, Webster has restructured departments and refocused programs to enhance student success in their post-graduation careers,” Giblin said.

For the students who have decided to begin their college experience here and for those who have decided to stick around for another year, Webster University has made it their mission to celebrate the student experience with their “welcome back” plans.

“The theme of ‘Welcome Back’ embraces the return to a more ‘normal’ experience and signals the university is glad to be in closer contact and community this year,”Giblin said. “The theme also celebrates the community’s spirit of resilience. One only needs to look at the overwhelming success of the ‘imPROMtu’ to see how glad students are to be back on campus, and we anticipate that optimism and enthusiasm will continue through the year.”


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