More college students enroll part time so they can work, too

Significant shift to part-time actually hurts UNI's bottom line

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The economy and tuition costs may have led to an unexpected shift at the University of Northern Iowa — more part-time students and fewer full-time students.

The shift to part-time enrollment among undergraduate students — nearly 240 more part-time and 220 fewer full-time — contributed to a $1.4 million tuition shortfall this year, UNI officials said. That lost revenue contributed to a $5 million deficit at UNI this year, also due to state budget cuts and other factors.

While UNI leaders can’t say for sure without more study what caused the enrollment shift, the economy and students’ need to work more hours while taking classes are likely culprits, they said.

“It’s what we think is happening, that it’s economy-driven and students are taking fewer number of hours,” Registrar Phil Patton said. “It was relatively unanticipated, because this really breaks a historical trend.”

In fall 2010, students enrolled part time made up 8.9 percent of UNI’s undergraduate population, while full-timers were 91.1 percent. That part-time percentage had been on a slow decline since 2006, when it was 10.2 percent. This fall, the number of part-time students jumped to 11 percent of undergrad enrollment.

“It’s to that point where either full-time tuition has become unaffordable to students, so they have to drop down to part-time at a reduced tuition rate, or that in order to afford to attend college they need to keep a job or get a job,” UNI student government President Spencer Walrath said.

Several other Iowa colleges and universities said they have heard anecdotally from students who dropped to part-time status to work more hours or because they couldn’t afford the larger tuition bill, but most schools did not see the noticeable change that UNI had this fall.

Iowa State University, in fact, has seen its percentage of part-time enrollment decrease over the past five years, from 13 percent to 11.5 percent of total enrollment this fall — ISU’s lowest part-time enrollment in the past 20 years, Registrar Kathy Jones said. Undergraduate part-time enrollment was 6.3 percent in 2007 and is 5.1 percent this fall at ISU.

Kirkwood Community College student Shawn Vorba is taking 25 credits this fall but will drop to part-time status in the spring, so he can start a job as a sales associate at a Cedar Rapids car dealership. The 28-year-old is studying business management and marketing, and will finish his necessary classes online so he can work full time.

“Ultimately, I was hoping to finish everything up on campus at Kirkwood, but given the job, I just can’t,” said Vorba, a Cedar Rapids native. “I really wanted to get a jump-start and start this job right away. In this economy, you need a job.”

Kirkwood this fall has 48.2 percent of its students enrolled part time, compared with 45.7 percent last fall. It was in the 44 percent to 45 percent range for several years before that. Breaking those part-time numbers down, enrollment of half-time students was up this fall, while students who are less than half time declined, said Kristie Fisher, vice president for enrollment.

“When you talk to individual students, you definitely hear from students who make a shift,” she said. “The biggest driver is economics. If they can get a job where they can pick up more hours or a job they think will move to full time, they step back and slow down on completion of college classes so they can get into the workforce.”

Kirkwood has increased weekend class offerings at the request of students who want to work more hours while working toward a degree, Fisher said.

Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids has seen enrollment growth in all areas in the past several years, though the percentage of part time and full time hasn’t changed much, officials there said. Part-time students were about 39 percent of enrollment this fall.

The University of Iowa heard more frequently from students struggling financially to stay full time in 2008 and 2009, when the economic crisis first hit, Registrar Larry Lockwood said, bit it’s not as common to hear about it now. Part-time enrollment among UI undergraduates has bounced between 9.9 percent and 10.7 percent for the past five years.

UI officials have noticed an increase in the average number of credits undergraduates are taking, up to 13.82 this semester from about 13 credits six years ago. Students are trying to graduate sooner, he said.

 

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