The Evergreen State College in Olympia begins this school year with a drop in enrollment and an imminent hiring freeze. The conservative blogosphere is crowing that it's fallout from recent campus unrest, but the university administration disagrees.
A memo sent this week to faculty and staff at Evergreen laid out a difficult budget and enrollment situation and called for spending cuts. Registrations are down 212 students from last fall. The student headcount was 3,670 as of mid-August compared to 3,882 at the same time last year.
Conservative news websites and talk radio hosts gleefully publicized the enrollment decline, tying it to the unrest and outside threats related to racial issues and allegations of liberal intolerance on campus that were covered nationally last spring.
"Even the most progressive upper-middle-class parents won’t send tens of thousands of dollars to schools that won’t prepare their kids for adulthood — or even provide physical safety," Ricochet.com editor Jon Gabriel wrote in an article headlined, "Evergreen State College Wakes Up to the Costs of Wokeness."
Evergreen spokesman Zach Powers sees it differently, saying a big factor is heightened competition among small liberal arts colleges.
"This is a situation that is ongoing and is something that we are exploring different options and solutions to," Powers said.
Powers noted nearly all of this fall's enrollment drop came from the category of out-of-state students, who pay higher tuition.
"Our numbers are down in California and that accounts for the lion's share of our enrollment being down just a little bit," Powers said in an interview Thursday. "Our Washington numbers—our in-state students—that number is pretty steady."
Enrollment at the public liberal arts college has actually been falling for quite a while. Total student headcount peaked in 2009 at nearly 4,900 before beginning a fairly steady slide through today.
The right-leaning website that first wrote about the all-staff memo, The College Fix, compared Evergreen’s predicament to the University of Missouri, which saw enrollment declines after a Black Lives Matter protest paralyzed campus in 2014.
Since 2013, student headcount at other four-year public universities in Washington has been rising slowly at Western Washington University and Central Washington University and vacillates between steady to down slightly at Eastern Washington University.
"As we make the adjustments needed to absorb the (budget) shortfall, work continues to renew the college and rebuild enrollment," read the all-staff memo from TESC vice presidents John Hurley and Wendy Endress. "Our work in equity and inclusion is an important step in this process."
"We will have to make painful choices in the coming weeks and months and we welcome your ideas and input into ways money can be saved and revenue enhanced," the administrators wrote. "In a college where 89 percent of the operating budget is salaries and benefits, it is impossible to reduce the budget by substantial amounts without giving up positions. In anticipation of this, we will soon be announcing a hiring freeze."
The first day of fall quarter at the Olympia campus is September 25.