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A Big Boost

Campus-wide efforts lead to enrollment increases and record freshman class

Professor Bob Beatty teaches a class

Bob Beatty, professor and chair, political science, interacting with students in his Politics of Great Britain class this fall. He said the number of political science and public administration majors increased 28% this year.

From The Ichabod - Winter 2024
Story and photos by Jeremy Wangler

Thanks to the largest incoming freshman class ever – 942 Ichabods – Washburn University reported its first enrollment growth in a decade this fall.

“Affordability and academic excellence are always a winning combination,” said Alan Bearman, vice president for strategic enrollment management and student success and dean of libraries. “We’re telling people Washburn is special, we are here to help you pursue your dreams.”

Washburn’s full-time equivalency climbed by 5.5% from a year ago. First-time freshmen increased by 20% and transfer students increased by 23%.

With growth and retention as their goals, Bearman and his team kept showing students why Washburn is a great choice. President JuliAnn Mazachek announcing the Together We Thrive financial aid package last spring may have been the game-changer.

“When I saw Dr. Mazachek announce those scholarships, I knew we were going to win because she is a visionary leader,” said Sean Bird, ba ’91, senior associate dean, Mabee Library. “She is critically aware that for us to succeed, we can't just talk about it, we have to do something.”

“She is encouraging us to push and chase these goals, and she’s willing to give us the resources we need,” Bearman said.

Washburn staff recently reworked the merit and transfer scholarship grids. They also made ScholarshipUniverse available, an application that presents students with vetted third-party scholarships.

“We not only expanded scholarships, but we simplified the process, making it easier for students to understand,” said Andy Fogel, director, student financial aid. “They can project earlier in the process what scholarships they might receive.”

Brett Johnson, aa ’14, ba ’14, ma ’22, associate director, undergraduate recruitment and admissions, said the scholarship strategy awards those with financial need and makes it easier to recruit high-achieving students who received merit scholarship offers from other schools.

“This helps set us apart, and it helps improve someone’s ability to select Washburn when they're looking at college choice,” he said.

Students walking across the Washburn campus

(Students make their way to and from Lincoln Hall.)

Bearman’s division also oversees marketing to potential students, another part of the recent success.

“The marketing team instinctively understood what the financial aid and recruiting teams were doing – changing the conversation around affordability as a way to open doors to talk about Washburn,” Bearman said. “They built a marketing package around that, and people are paying attention in a way they haven’t in a long time.”

Retaining current students is also part of the success. Jennifer Wiard, ba ’09, associate dean of student success, Center for Student Success and Retention, said the CSSR has launched 37 retention initiatives since March 2023. These include re-enrollment campaigns, retention grants and helping students remove holds from their accounts.

“President Mazachek and Dr. Bearman’s retention goals introduced a lot of excitement and energy into our initiatives, especially as we watched the numbers climb,” Wiard said. “Positively impacting enrollment involves all of us helping students solve problems, succeed in their classes and reach their goals. Our outstanding faculty’s relationships with students and their commitment to student success are the most powerful drivers of retention. Everyone on campus has a role to play in helping our students retain and graduate.”

Students studying individually at tables.

This year’s growth needs to be just the beginning. Washburn is a vital part of the statewide necessity to increase the number of higher-education graduates. A University of Kansas study said the state must produce 34,000 more degrees than projected to meet workforce demand by 2030.

“That’s six years from now,” Bird said. “What’s our part in that? How are we going to meet people where they are and get them to those jobs?”

Bearman said it’s more than just competing for students. It’s a collective effort to increase the college-going rate in the state and region.

"People are hearing college is all about debt or college isn’t necessary,” Bearman said. “We’re presenting them with different information and we’re gaining momentum. We’re helping people envision themselves as a college graduate.”

The enrollment numbers are a testament to everyone’s hard work and cause for excitement.

“We feel the energy students are bringing in,” Bird said. “We know there's a concerted effort to all be moving in the same direction. And that always ends in students walking across the stage in Lee Arena.”

“The reason people work and teach at Washburn is because they love pouring themselves into students,” Bearman said. “Having more students here is something they want. They’re happy about it and excited about what comes next.”

A professor teaches to a classroom of students

(Tucker Jones, assistant professor, teaching his Basic Concepts in Psyc-Mastery class this fall.)

Winter 2024 The Ichabod magazine cover with picture of the bell tower and snow fallen on campus

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. View the current and past editions


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