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Schulz sees rosy future for WSU

Mar. 27—On the day that Washington State University Athletic Director Pat Chun announced his departure, and days after the men's basketball coach Kyle Smith left, its president gave a rosy picture of the institution.

President Kirk Schulz shared an optimistic view of WSU's future during his State of the University Address on Tuesday at the Everett University Center at Everett, Wash.

He, alongside Everett campus Chancellor Paul Pitre, met at one of WSU's extension campuses to discuss how the system plans to move forward.

Schulz was quick to share many university highlights, like enrollment being "up across the board" since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and two consecutive years of record-setting fundraising. But several of the institution's pressing concerns seemed to go unaddressed.

WSU is entering a new era in the world of athletics with the near-collapse of the Pac-12 Conference in recent months, and new administration next academic year. The institution will search to fill roles when Chun leaves for the same AD job at the university's rival, the University of Washington, and Smith heads to Stanford University.

Schulz was criticized by around 200 faculty members and the WSU chapter of American Association of University Professors, who recently called for major reform. The association is a union of current and former WSU faculty, librarians, postdocs and graduate students that was established in 2009.

Earlier this month, the organization released a letter stating the institution is suffering consequences from poor leadership. It addressed many concerns like a decline in enrollment the past four years, erosion of graduate programs, decreased finances and less presence in athletics. Its executive committee recommended changes in university management, budget formation and transparency.

WSU "got hammered" on enrollment coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the institution is seeing a positive recovery, Schulz said. He added enrollment data this academic year is looking robust, first-year student commitments are up 15% to 16% and transfer students are up as well.

But the full picture may not be represented. Enrollment across the WSU system is still declining, though at a slower rate compared to past years. According to documents provided by WSU, there are about 24,300 students systemwide enrolled at the university this spring, compared to 25,400 in spring 2023. The decline this year is equal to about 4.4% while its systemwide enrollment was down nearly 7% a year ago.

Pullman campus enrollment is also dropping. Around 15,400 students are enrolled this spring compared to 16,200 in spring 2023, or a 5.5% decline this year compared to less than 6% in 2023.

The fall in enrollment is a trend that started four years ago. Before the drop, WSU saw a steady increase since 2013 and set a record high of 31,600 students in fall 2019.

Schulz said he is optimistic about how fall enrollment is looking.

He mentioned there was concern around students considering not enrolling at WSU because it won't be playing among traditional Pac-12 schools. While athletics can play a role in enrollment, he said WSU will still have football games, Greek life and great faculty that draws people to the university.

The institution's budget reductions were also brought up. Schulz said WSU has modeled a 1%, 3% and 5% budget reduction, but some have advocated for a "time out" in budget cuts across the board. He added it's time to start making decisions on things that are important to the university, and decide what it should invest in.

He said WSU is working with faculty, staff and students to prepare for a complete review of the administrative structure and programs this fall. He added this is something the institution hasn't done in decades, and it will be something it takes its time with.

"Together we can figure out ways to structure things differently," Schulz said, "in a collaborative, transparent way."

Schulz said the key to moving forward and overcoming challenges is to work together.

"I really do believe we have challenges," Schulz said. "But we have the people in the right places to work together and we can overcome anything because we are Cougs.... Go Cougs!"

Pearce can be reached at epearce@dnews.com