Western Washington University got on my radar for some interesting majors that I have not seen at other public colleges. This school offers nearly 200 possible majors, likely more than I would find at Rutgers, including:
I don’t expect many people from New Jersey or Pennsylvania to know about Western Washington University. But my point in this post is to show what a regional public university needs to do to successfully attract students. Western Washington is located in a state with two large Pac 12 schools, the University of Washington and Washington State. It also shares the Evergreen State with Gonzaga University, America’s best basketball school for men’s and women’s hoops, as well as three of the Colleges That Change Lives: Evergreen State College (which is public), the University of Puget Sound and Whitman College. Throw in schools in neighboring states and a Western Washington admissions officer has to compete in a really tough market for students.
Western Washington University has over 14,000 undergrads. There are only 1,000 grad students here, so the undergrads get most of the attention from the faculty. This is going to be a less intimidating place than the University of Washington in Seattle, which has nearly 36,000 undergrads and 16,000 grad students. The University of Washington is an internationally respected state university. But a freshman is more likely to get the lions share of their instruction from a grad student. Western Washington has a lower student-faculty ratio of 18 to 1, high for a state university. Twenty-eight percent of the classes at Western Washington have more than 30 students. That’s also high for a state school. However, the ‘Big U’ in Seattle has exceptionally high numbers (20 to 1 and 46 percent).
Ninety-four percent of the students who applied to be in this year’s freshman class were accepted. A quarter of them decided to come. Those students had an average high school GPA of 3.45. The university just went test optional. But the 1260 SAT or 28 ACT that might keep someone out of the University of Washington puts an applicant in the upper quarter of the class at Western. That score and a high GPA might also net a scholarship.
I live in New Jersey, a state that many college-bound high school students want to leave. Yet some of our regional public colleges, like Rowan University, the school most similar to Western Washington, are good, and graduate the majority of their freshmen on time. However, Rowan pulls nothing close to 14 percent of its enrollment from other states. Now take a look at that photo at the top of this post as well as the photos that I gathered on Pinterest. Believe me, Rowan University looks nothing like this.
Western Washington University is a member of the Western Undergraduate Exchange. Californians, and residents of 13 other states pay less than $9,500 in tuition. Residents pay $6,700. Even after tacking on $2,100 in student fees, Western Washington is more affordable than most public colleges in the country. I realize that I’m taking a virtual look, but the on-campus housing looks nice, too.
It’s fair to say that Western Washington is offering what many parents might like: a choice of academic options, in a nice setting at a reasonable price. I’d guess the downside is brand equity. Western Washington is not as high profile as the flagships in California and Washington. Nor is it in or immediately next to the big city. But I have to admit, I like the setting of this school.
Looking at the photos off that link, Bellingham reminded me of Davis, California and Athens, Georgia, two of my favorite college towns. If West Coasters prefer to compare Bellingham favorably with Berkeley, that’s fine by me. Bellingham not only compares visually with Athens to me; it’s also just as far from a major city. It takes 90 minutes to get from Athens to Atlanta or from Bellingham to Seattle. Western Washington alumni registered in LinkedIn.com mainly reside in or around either city. Nearly 44,000 Vikings are Seattleites and over 15,000 have stayed around Bellingham. There’s also a large contingent of nearly 4,200 alumni in the Portland area.
Through a virtual lens Western Washington University appears to have a nice formula of price, programs and place that many parents and college bound students should like. Yet, it lost about a fifth of each freshman class from 2016 to 2019. Only 42 percent of the freshmen who arrived in 2016 graduated on time. That is up from 38 percent for the class that arrived in 2014. The better news: 63 percent of the 2014 freshman class finished in five years. These numbers have to get better for more high school parents and students to take notice. I hope that they do. No state can ever have enough good schools, especially if they are more affordable than a flagship state university.
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