ASWWU logo
Walla Walla, WA
Thursday, June 8, 2023

Cause and Effect

May 4, 2023

The Post-Pandemic Experience at Walla Walla University

Kudzai Mhondiwa

A staggering decline in university enrollment has sent shockwaves throughout the United States. Sources indicate the enrollment count has seen the steepest decline since 2018. [1] Among the other university campuses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Walla Walla University faced heavy turbulence in enrollment, faculty/staff layoffs, and program adjustments.

Vice President of Academic Administration, Dr. Pamela Cress, described it as a “demographic shift” of those stepping away from higher education, with COVID-19 “exacerbating” the gradual decrease in enrollment since 2011. [2, 3] The pandemic became a catalyst for the 8% decline in undergraduate enrollment with experts describing it as a cause that led to slower economic growth and continued labor shortages throughout the U.S. [4, 5]

Vice President of Academic Administration, Pamela Cress by Claudia Santellano.

Projections of a new demographic shift in 2026 will likely have university enrollment in further decline, with less students graduating high school, students taking longer than one gap year, or students reluctant in pursuing college for a career. [6]  

WWU has seen a 20.7% negative trend in student enrollment since 2019. [7] However, Vice President of Financial Administration Dr. Prakash Ramoutar noted that this decline is forecasted to make a turnaround in the fall of 2023 to result in a rise in student applications, acceptances, and enrollment fees in comparison to 2020-2022.  

Ramoutar also outlined some of the elements that led to this decline, due to the pandemic fewer freshman students have applied to the university and the cancellation of on-campus events such as April U-Days and Friendship Tournament during the pandemic has made an impact on the count of incoming Freshmen class since Fall of 2020. Student-gathered events such as U-Days usually provide substantial commitment from the 500-600 high school students from across the nation who participate and arrive on campus from year-to-year. [8] 

This downward trend required the administration to execute carefully calibrated steps in maintaining the long-term sustainability of the University. Cress and Ramoutar went on to describe the practical measures undertaken by the administration, which included curriculum modifications decreasing operating expenses, fundraising and the removal of class sections to support a wider range of students in each class. [9, 10] 

Vice President of Financial Administration, Prakash Ramoutar by Claudia Santellano.

It is important to note the resizing of academic departments was due to the decreasing number of students which required a lower number of faculty and staff positions. Other factors, including “student-to-major ratio, student credit hours, revenue margins over the past five years,” and the excess capacity of faculty and staff, became crucial in the controlled reduction of 17 academic faculty/staff positions. [11, 12]  

Despite undergoing some employment resizing, Walla Walla University has been able to sustain an average retention rate of 82% during and after the pandemic. This contrasts with Washington State's average retention rate for first-time freshmen returning in the following Fall of 74.77% in 2022. [13] In addition to the retention rate, the university has managed to remain debt free by upholding its operational reserve of over 25% of its yearly budget and maintain its Composite Financial Index score of 6, surpassing the average of 3.2 among all SDA institutions as of 2022. Ramoutar reported the university reaching its projected balanced budget by the academic year 2024/2025.  

Ramoutar concluded by saying, “The university is blessed to have quality faculty and staff who provide quality academic programs, great student life experience, and a significant reserve and no current or forecasted debt to fund its operations. [14]  

The peak of the pandemic between December 2020 and January 2021 created a surge of over 26 million active COVID-19 cases. [15] Jodi Wagner, vice president for university relations and advancement, worked alongside the on-campus COVID-19 response team and Washington state health committees in support of student development during these unprecedented times.  

Vice President of University Relations and Advancement, Jodi Wagner by Claudia Santellano.

Wagner went on to describe her direct initiatives within the parameters of the Washington state mandate by saying, “We adjusted to new information, trying to clarify the University’s position on what response was necessary for those moments. The mandates meant that almost overnight we needed more technology, more smart classrooms and speakers, more PPE and safety gear, [and] dedicated COVID-19 response personnel on our campus.” [16] 

The coordination and planning undertaken by the University during its COVID-19 response faced not only the financial impact of these new protocols but also intense pressures from both members of the community and the Adventist congregation. These groups were burdened by anxiety and sought to find answers that even universities across the nation were baffled to provide. 

Wagner acknowledged the substantial efforts made by those connected to the University by saying, "I also believe history will record extraordinary details of the time and energy and financial resources that many, many devoted people  employees, alumni, and donors – are pouring into Walla Walla University to strengthen its future and serve students for years to come.” [17] 

Leading figures such as Cress, Wagner, and Ramoutar, along with other students and faculty, continue to be proactive in bolstering student success in a collective stance of a post-COVID-19 WWU.  



  1. Binkley, C. (2023, March 11). Why more Americans are skipping college. PBS.  
  2. Interview with Pamela Cress, 4/25/2023. 
  3. College enrollment statistics in the U.S. (2023, February 23). Best Colleges.  
  4. Binkley, C. (2023, March 11). Why more Americans are skipping college. PBS. 
  5. Marcus, J. (2023, April 27). Another million adults 'have stepped off the path to the middle class'. The Hechinger Report.  
  6. Interview with Pamela Cress, 4/25/2023. 
  7. Academic Program Faculty/Staff Proposal, Fall 2022 by Pamela Cress.  
  8. Interview with Prakash Ramoutar, 5/3/2023. 
  9. Interview with Pamela Cress, 4/25/2023. 
  10. Interview with Prakash Ramoutar, 5/3/2023. 
  11. Academic Program Faculty/Staff Proposal, Fall 2022 by Pamela Cress. 
  12. Interview with Prakash Ramoutar, 5/3/2023. 
  13. Washington colleges 2022 graduation rate comparison. (n.d.). College Tuition Compare. 
  14. Interview with Prakash Ramoutar, 5/3/2023. 
  15. Elflein, J. (2022, November 17). Cumulative COVID cases in the U.S. from 2020 to 2022. Statista.  
  16. Email interview with Jodi Wagner, 4/27/2023. 
  17. Ibid. 



  1. Masked students gathered for Spring Week of Worship by SmugMug.  
  2. Vice President of Academic Administration, Pamela Cress by Claudia Santellano.  
  3. Vice President of University Relations and Advancement, Jodi Wagner by Claudia Santellano. 
  4.  Vice President of Financial Administration, Prakash Ramoutar by Claudia Santellano. 
menuchevron-upchevron-downmenu-circlecross-circle linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram