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As a result of strong retention rates and a record-breaking number of new applications, Central Washington University’s fall 2020 enrollment figures were not as impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic as had been anticipated, according to Josh Hibbard, CWU’s Vice President for Enrollment Management.

Hibbard said overall fall enrollment to the university, including its eight sites and centers, was down about 5 percent, which was in line with projections prepared earlier this year.

Hibbard said the total combined fall enrollment of undergraduate and graduate students at all of the university locations is 11,110, which is a drop of 597 students from the previous year.

CWU President James L. Gaudino said he was pleased by the report. “Part of the reason for the modest decline in enrollment was that Central continues to be perceived as a college of choice in the Pacific Northwest, as evidenced by the more than 12,000 first year student applications, a 24 percent increase over the year prior and more than the university has ever received,” said Gaudino.

The president attributed the record number of applicants to the combined efforts of the university community, many of whom adapted to the pandemic by conducting meetings with students via virtual appointments, hosting virtual campus tours daily, and expediting admissions decisions.

Hibbard said there were a number of positive trends in the fall 2020 enrollment report, which is produced every school year on the tenth day of the quarter, the last day to drop classes without a financial penalty. Data from the report indicates that the number of students returning for their sophomore year was very strong.

“Early indicators are that we have strong retention rates for continuing students,” he said. “I think this is important because it shows that in this unprecedented year of having to move so many of our classes online, we were able to pivot to meet their needs.”

Gaudino singled out university faculty for praise, saying their ability to provide a high-quality education and support students throughout the pandemic played a key role in student persistence.

“Clearly COVID-19 has impacted our enrollment,” Gaudino said. “This is especially true in our new student enrollments. We are learning that many students who were planning to join the Wildcat family in fall decided to postpone their plans for a term or more.”

But, the president added, “At the end of the day, we will be here, ready to welcome them to Central when the timing is best for each student.”

The 10-day enrollment numbers do not include university programs such as Running Start and College in the High School because registration for those programs is still in progress. In 2019, CWU served more than 4,000 students statewide through these “dual-credit” programs, more than any other institution in the state.

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