Cougars turned out in full force Monday, the first day of the fall semester at Washington State University Vancouver.
Waving a crimson flag, an enthusiastic Max Ault perched atop the stone entry sign at the foot of the Salmon Creek campus shortly after 8 a.m. Ault was among dozens of WSU graduates who waved flags to greet students. Vehicles were backed up in the left-hand turning lane. The horns of passing cars honked in Coug solidarity.
“I had a great college experience on this campus,” said Ault, a 2012 WSU Vancouver graduate and the director of business growth and development for the Columbia River Economic Development Council. “To be able to stand up here and wave the flag, it’s connectivity — and a ton of fun. It’s one big Coug family.”
Standing on the sidewalk near Ault, Chancellor Mel Netzhammer waved at drivers as he spoke about the campus he has led for the past four academic years.
Growth and changes
When all the statistics are compiled, administrators expect to set a new enrollment record this fall, surpassing last year’s 3,300. Most of the new students — roughly 600, the same as last fall — will transfer from Clark College and other community colleges. Another 300 students will enroll as freshmen, about 12 percent more than last year, said Nancy Youlden, vice chancellor for student affairs and enrollment.
Did You Know?
• Last school year, state college tuition was reduced 5 percent by the Washington Legislature. This school year, tuition has been reduced another 10 percent. Tuition and fees for a full-time WSU undergraduate resident costs $9,883 annually. That’s 15 percent less than in 2014.
One possible reason for the enrollment boost: Tuition is cheaper. Double-digit tuition increases at state colleges occurred for several years recently. But after the Legislature approved reducing tuition statewide, tuition dropped 5 percent last fall and another 10 percent this fall.
Other states have cut tuition, but Netzhammer said: “Washington is the only state I know where the Legislature and the governor not only cut tuition, but also backfilled so that the (university’s) budget is about the same.”
He listed initiatives and projects developing on campus. The next building proposed in the capital budget is a Life Sciences Building, which will alleviate crowding that has forced classes to spill over into other buildings on campus.
“It would get nursing students out of the library, and neuroscience could move out of the business building,” he said.
He will unveil the campus’ strategic plan at his state-of-the-college address next week. It’s the result of a committee’s year-long effort to look at what direction the campus will take in the next five years. Part of that work has been “looking at how classes are spread out across the day and week,” he said.
He also said the committee is looking at how classes are offered to students, which is often a combination of blended learning: face-to-face classroom instruction plus online learning through video classes.
The Vancouver campus is geographically and demographically different from WSU Pullman. At the Vancouver campus, the average undergraduate is 26 years old, and is often working full time and has a family. In comparison, the average Pullman undergraduate is five years younger. In Vancouver, 54 percent of the students are women; in Pullman the ratio is closer to 50-50.
Many Pullman students live on campus or within walking distance; most WSU Vancouver students drive.
“We’ve been discussing how do we get students to engage more fully? To join clubs? Students who engage outside of classes do better in their classes,” Netzhammer said.
Open source textbooks
Another way WSU is working to reduce students’ expenses is through adopting open textbooks where possible. Mike Caulfield, director of blended and network learning at WSU Vancouver, is helping to lead the systemwide WSU effort. Caulfield’s group is focusing on offering open textbooks to large introductory courses for freshmen and sophomores.
Open textbooks are available online at no charge, and often in print for a fraction of the cost of a traditional college textbook. He mentioned an open biology book available in hardcover format for $29. A traditional biology textbook could easily cost $200 or more.
“Open means openly licensed,” Caulfied explained. “That means you can reuse, revise, remix, redistribute these resources freely.”
Although open textbooks are new, studies indicate that students who use open textbooks not only save money, but do better in their courses because they don’t defer buying a book until they determine whether they absolutely need it.
“They want to save money, but by week three, if they haven’t bought the textbook, they’ve dug a hole,” Caulfield said. “When people use open materials because digital materials are available on day one, the students do better. It’s important to save our students’ money for a variety of reasons. But it’s also important to ensure our students have the materials they need to succeed on day one.”
Here’s the most amazing figure,” said Caulfield. “If we replaced the paid textbooks in the seven highest enrolled courses at WSU (across all sections), we would save WSU students a total of $929,000 in just fall semester alone. Over multiple semesters and over multiple years, we would be saving students millions of dollars. With most of our students taking out loans, every dollar a student spends is another dollar that student is in debt. We take that very seriously.”
Back at the campus entrance, Netzhammer nodded toward a passing car honking its horn.
“I’m an adopted Cougar,” he said. “I feel I’ve adapted well. I love the spirit. I love the commitment to the campus in the community.”
Kim Johnson and her dog, Nabie and stopped to greet Netzhammer. The former campus custodian chatted with the chancellor briefly. Then she and her dog jogged up the path toward the main campus as Cougs continued to drive onto campus with horns honking.