For all of those high-school seniors waiting for a fat envelope to arrive from the college of their choice, give Mom and Dad a hug: Due to either good planning or sheer luck, they gave birth to you at the bottom of a demographic trough.
The number of high-school graduates in the state this year — indeed, across the nation — is the lowest in four years. In Washington, about 5,000 fewer are expected to get a diploma than in 2010, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), which tracks demographic trends nationwide.
This year, nearly 69 percent of in-state freshman applicants to the University of Washington will get an acceptance letter in the mail this month. Letters will be sent March 15-31.
That’s a slightly higher percentage than in 2013 and 2012, when between 63 and 65 percent of in-state applicants were admitted.
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“The chances of getting in this year happen to be better than in recent years,” said UW spokesman Norm Arkans. But he underscored that getting into the UW still requires top grades, high college entrance-exam scores and a résumé of high-school achievements.
About 7,100 in-state high-school seniors will be admitted to the UW, and about 4,300 are projected to eventually enroll in the state’s flagship university for fall quarter. That’s about 7 percent of the nearly 62,000 Washington high-school seniors expected to earn a diploma at the end of this academic year.
The UW-Tacoma, UW-Bothell, Washington State University and a number of other state schools have rolling-admissions policies, and are continuing to accept applications for fall.
The UW has been breaking its own record for the number of applicants every year, and this year was no exception. But while out-of-state and international applications were up, in-state applications were down 3 percent.
The state’s public university with the largest increase in applicants was WSU, which has received about 27 percent more applicants than it did the same time last year.
What made the difference? WSU officials think it’s because the university has a larger and more experienced staff of recruiters than in previous years.
But it could also be because WSU dropped the requirement that students write an essay to gain admission. SAT and ACT scores were also optional.
“It’s not easier to get in — we just put a lot of emphasis on grades,” said John Fraire, vice president for student affairs and enrollment. “It’s a better predictor of success.”
WSU also promotes itself as an access school: “We define quality by how inclusive we are, not how exclusive we are,” he said.
WSU predicts a freshman class of up to 4,100 this year, which would rank among its largest classes ever. The UW also expects to have its largest freshman class — about 6,400 students this fall.
Many colleges and universities also reported increases in the number of minority-student applicants.
At WSU, 42 percent of freshman applicants this year were minorities. Fraire said WSU has made outreach to minority communities a strong part of its philosophy. It broadcasts a Spanish radio program, conducts cultural programs that encourage more students to consider college, and works directly with parents.
Both in Washington and nationally, the number of minority high-school seniors is expected to continue to grow, with the biggest increase in Hispanic students. White students, who make up the largest share of students at most state four-year colleges and universities, will shrink in number in the coming years.
Washington’s regional universities — Western, Central and Eastern — saw application numbers stay about the same or even fall slightly, and most are expecting to enroll about the same number of freshmen this year as last year.
“We’re all competing for many of the same students this year,” Clara Capron, assistant vice president for enrollment and student services at Western Washington University, wrote in an email.
The Evergreen State College is expecting a drop in freshman enrollment, but college officials noted that most of their new students are transfers. More than 60 percent of the 1,200 new students on campus this fall will come from other schools, the vast majority from Washington community colleges, said communications director Sandra Kaiser.
She said Evergreen attracts transfer students because it accepts most transfer credits and has strong tutoring support.
Washington’s private colleges saw an uptick in applications, “especially among students whose parents didn’t attend college, Hispanic students and Asian students,” said Violet Boyer, president and CEO of Independent Colleges of Washington.
She said the schools are doing more outreach, and have done well on reputation rankings in recent years. Parents also are increasingly aware that private schools have high graduation rates and are successful at graduating students within four years. she said.
After this year, the number of seniors graduating from high school each year will start to grow again.
Ten years from now, according to WICHE, 16 percent more seniors will graduate from Washington high schools than will graduate this year.
Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @katherinelong.