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Tri-Cities confident it can handle wealth of freshmen

With five months to go before fall semester and the beginning of WSU Tri-Cities transformation to a four-year institution, administrators have stopped worrying about whether they’ll fill the 25 or 50 freshman slots in the governor’s or House budgets now before the state Legislature. Instead they are worrying about all the things that go along with having a freshman class possibly three times larger than they anticipated.

“We’re already on plan B, C, D, E or F,” said LoAnn Ayers, director of campus advancement for WSU Tri-Cities.

As of early March, about 240 high school seniors had applied for admission to WSU Tri-Cities and 74 students had been accepted. Fourteen had paid their tuition deposits even though they aren’t due until May 1.

“We honestly didn’t know what to expect,” said WSU Tri-Cities Chancellor Vicky Carwein. Along with a surprising number of freshman applications, Carwein said transfer applications are up by about 60 percent this year, from 155 last year to 249.

Both she and other WSU Tri-Cities employees attribute the high numbers to strong community support and a heightened awareness of what WSU Tri-Cities has to offer.

“This is a community that has rallied around the expansion of this campus in a huge way,” Carwein said.

Individuals and businesses in the Tri-Cities area have donated more than $230,000 to enable the university to offer what Carwein called “a superb freshman package,” starting with a $3,000 freshman year scholarship and a $3,000 senior year scholarship.

But, besides the money, students also are guaranteed opportunities for internships in the local community and one-to-one mentoring with a professional working in the student’s field of interest. Lockheed Martin has promised laptop computers to at least the first 50 students, and perhaps more.

Students who meet or exceed admission criteria – which are the same as for the Pullman campus – will automatically be offered admission, while students who fall into a gray area will have their applications evaluated separately.

“Until the smoke clears, we won’t know who these people are,” Carwein said, but officials are working to make sure every student who qualifies for admission and wants to attend will have a spot.

Fortunately, she said, WSU Tri-Cities’ expansion to a four-year institution follows on the heels of similar expansions at WSU Vancouver, and University of Washington Tacoma and UW Bothell. In addition, officials at those campuses, and at Pullman, have been extremely helpful. Conversion rates for those campuses – the number of applications compared to the number of students who actually enroll – vary from 32 percent near Seattle to about 43 percent in Vancouver.

Renee Smith, a recruiter at WSU Tri-Cities, said she has no formal data but she believes many of the applicants will be first-generation college students and will come from diverse backgrounds.

The opportunity to go to college and remain close to home is a huge factor for many of these students, she said: “For some students, it’s the only option they’ve got.”

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