President A. James Wohlpart and Provost Michelle DenBeste said they expect approximately 1,700 first-year students enrolled for fall, about 100-200 students shy of the goals mentioned by President Wohlpart in a previous Observer article (see “Fall enrollment projections spark concerns over NTT faculty job security”).
According to Wohlpart, the schedules and budget are now “pretty well set,” but will continue to be refined throughout June and July as numbers are updated due to orientation.
“Our hope is to get to 1,700 new students, and then about 900 transfer students,” DenBeste said. “If we do that, that will put us on the track to be in better shape for following years.”
According to DenBeste, enrollment numbers are less clear in terms of returning students.
“We are a bit worried about retention, in that these students have been in COVID times, and so many of the things that are great about Central haven’t necessarily been part of their Central experience,” DenBeste said. “So far though, it seems to be going okay. We don’t have super negative numbers.”
DenBeste said department chairs are “pretty clear” about what sections of classes they will need and based on what she said she can tell from a distance, there will likely be fewer Non Tenure Track (NTT) faculty members in some areas.
“My sense from my office, which is not right in it, is that we do have fewer sections which does mean fewer NTTs, but that it’s not draconian,” DenBeste said. “I hesitate to talk about it this way because, it’s fine to say, ‘It’s less than x number who are not getting classes,’ but these are people with families and jobs so for them, even if it’s only one, it’s still a big deal for that person.”
Despite these potential losses, DenBeste said the situation is better than originally predicted and seems to be causing less panic as some faculty members have been informed of what classes will or won’t be offered.
“We are hiring NTTs in some cases, depending on the discipline, maybe there were more students than we thought … We still will have many NTTs teaching for us,” DenBeste said.
While enrollment has increased since the first Observer article, students, staff and faculty have expressed uncertainty over the fate of their programs.
The Observer reached out to four department chairs, the Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, two faculty senate members and two Academic Department Chairs Organization members for comment. Every source either declined to comment or did not reply before publication. Past concerns included the following:
In the March 2 article “Fall enrollment numbers spark concerns over NTT faculty job security,” an anonymous department chair reported being “told to not hire back faculty next year.” Another anonymous department chair said, “I am telling faculty that I cannot guarantee them the same class schedules that they have had in the past.”
One anonymous NTT faculty member said, “We hope CWU will consider the best interest of NTTs in matters of timing and communication.”
Another anonymous NTT faculty member described the geographic isolation of Ellensburg and how this impacts NTT faculty careers by limiting other opportunities to work.
The NTT faculty member said, “Faculty cuts may well be unavoidable, but if Central is really going to use a ‘relational’ rather than a ‘transactional’ model, NTT faculty facing the prospect of losing their careers and livelihoods should be treated with as much respect, compassion and transparency as possible.”
Wohlpart said the impact of enrollment numbers on NTT faculty hires will be proportional based on class schedules and student needs.
“If you don’t have as many students, you don’t need as many classes,” Wohlpart said. “Now the other option is we can raise your tuition a whole bunch and pay a whole bunch of faculty who have a bunch of really small classes. I don’t think students would like that option.”
Wohlpart said he has met with department chairs multiple times about enrollment issues, and called them “excellent.”
“They are working to solve this hard place we just mentioned, that they’re in in order to make sure they are offering what the students need in order to have a quality of education and graduate on time,” Wohlpart said.
In the event of NTT faculty cuts, DenBeste said the university would abide by processes in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) in place.
“That process also varies a lot, so if someone only taught for us a quarter or two, them getting a contract is less guaranteed than if they’ve been here longer, then the process is more complex,” DenBeste said. “It varies a lot by person and position, but there are at least some rules around this. It’s governed by the CBA and the union does have a role in this.”
According to DenBeste, orientation registration is filling up more quickly than previous years which has led her to feel optimistic.
Wohlpart and DenBeste said efforts to be more relational vs. transactional have been effective in the form of targeted advertisements, on-the-spot admissions in high schools, peer mentors assisting prospective students and building more personal connections.
“We are being more thoughtful about which students are more likely to come to Central and we’re focusing on those,” DenBeste said. “When students call or sign up for a visit or ask questions about financial aid, we have some student peer mentors who are following up with those people.”
According to DenBeste, CWU is hoping to recapture some of their pre-COVID-19 success by offering positive experiences to potential students who visit campus.
DenBeste said the administration is, “trying to cut through the bureaucracy so when students have questions, we can answer them quickly instead of them feeling lost in a maze of questions about what to do to sign up to be a Central student.”