The statistics are surprising. Across the nation, it is predicted that upcoming high school graduates will be the first generation with lower rates of college attendance than their parents, according to Vicki McCracken, associate vice president and associate vice provost for enrollment services.

This shift in enrollment patterns reflects a number of demographic changes including nearly zero population growth in many regions of the country — with birth rates declining in most Caucasian families. Growth is primarily seen in the non-Caucasian segments of the population — such as in the Latino population in Washington State — where many families have not had a history of attending college.

At the same time, the demand for adult student online education is rapidly increasing. So, in addition to creating specific outreach programs for high school students, many colleges are scrambling to find new ways to market their distance education programs.

Muriel Oaks, dean of WSU’s Center for Distance and Professional Education (CDPE), said she is aware of the trends and has already been addressing them through new marketing materials and programs.

“By emphasizing the mission, strategic plan and strengths of Washington State University as a top-tier research institution, CDPE is in a very good position to attract students nationally,” said Oaks.
“We are excited to report that enrollments do look strong for this fall. Though we don’t have the final numbers in yet, there appears to be a good increase in students over fall 2005.” 

Most CDPE decisions now are guided by market research data, she said, including a recent name change and addition of the tagline, “World-Class Learning Solutions.”

Promoting top professors in CDPE’s seven undergraduate online degree programs is one such method. An example is Mark Fuller, chair of WSU Management Information Systems, the largest and most comprehensive MIS program in the Northwest.

CDPE also is recognized as a national model for its comprehensive online student support services. Distance students are offered the opportunity for personalized academic advising, career counseling, a library service, mentoring, tutoring and more.
CDPE students even have organized the first student government organization in a traditional university, called the Associated Students of Washington State University — Distance Degree Program (ASWSU-DDP). 

“They do it all online,” said Oaks, “elections, meetings, everything! All of these things help reflect WSU’s strength and commitment to undergraduate education.”