Universities pursue more Iowa students

ISU was the state's only public university to see an increase of in-state undergraduates this year

UI President Sally Mason and the UI mascot, Herky, greet students from the steps of Mason's residence at the President's Block Party on Sunday. (Justin Torner/Freelance)
UI President Sally Mason and the UI mascot, Herky, greet students from the steps of Mason's residence at the President's Block Party on Sunday. (Justin Torner/Freelance)

IOWA CITY — Iowa State University was the state’s only public university to see applications from prospective in-state undergraduates grow when comparing fall 2011 numbers to the fall semester 10 years before.

ISU officials say they’re pleased with the interest the university has garnered in recent years from Iowa high school graduates, while University of Iowa officials say Iowa residents are a recruitment pool on which they want to focus more attention.

UI President Sally Mason this month outlined to the state Board of Regents new initiatives to attract more Iowa graduates, including additional investments in earlier recruiting contact with students, expanded communication with Iowa high schoolers and enhanced scholarship opportunities for Iowans.

“During this past year, we began serious discussions about the national landscape for recruitment of undergraduate students generally,” Mason said. “Specifically, we began and will continue to improve our efforts to recruit Iowa’s best and brightest.”

Total undergraduate applications to the UI and ISU have seen huge increases, up 40 percent at the UI from fall 2002 to fall 2011, and up 36 percent at ISU in that time.

But among the three universities, only ISU saw an increase, about 1.1 percent, in undergraduate applications from Iowa residents when comparing fall 2002 to fall 2011. At the UI, undergraduate applications from Iowa residents were 6.4 percent lower in fall 2011 than they were in fall 2002, while at UNI, undergraduate applications from Iowa residents were about 8.4 percent lower.


With fall classes starting this week, ISU officials said they expect record enrollment of about 31,000, with much of the growth coming from in-state students. Applications from in-state freshman and transfer students for this fall likely total the highest ever, Phil Caffrey, ISU director of admissions operations and policy, said. Some of that can be attributed to demand for academic programs like engineering and agriculture, which are faring well in this economy, he said.

“We’re feeling really good about where we are with regard to resident applications,” he said.

The UI’s growth in total applications has been driven mostly by out-of-state and international students, where the university has made strong gains, UI Admissions Director Mike Barron said. It’s important to note, he said, that the number of college-bound Iowa high school graduates has remained mostly flat or declined, which means a stagnant or smaller applicant pool.

Still, the university wants to “redouble its efforts” to identify and reach out to all college-bound Iowans, Barron said.

UI officials are restructuring the high school visitation program with a new territory management system, Barron said, which will help set appropriate goals for all corners of the state and likely will yield more high school visits. Additional scholarships also are aimed at targeting Iowa residents, Barron said.

“We would definitely like to continue to push those numbers up — resident applications and admissions and, ultimately, enrollments,” he said.

Several UI first-year students said they think one-on-one interaction with recruiters and current students and campus visits make the biggest impact when students are mulling college choices.

The regent universities “kind of sell themselves” to in-state students, since the schools are so well-known around the state, Erin Deheer, 18, a UI freshman from Des Moines said. So it often comes down to what academic area students want to study, or to which university they have been a loyal fan growing up, she said.

Cassidy Conlan, a UI freshman from Pleasant Hill, visited the ISU campus in Ames, but made three visits to Iowa City. She never considered an out-of-state school because she knew she wanted to be close to home.


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“The more I talked to people who were actually from the university, the easier it was to make the decision,” the 18-year-old said of liking personal contact with recruiters.

More contact with students through social media has also become key in recruiting, officials said. And all three universities have made changes to the admissions process to be more competitive.

ISU two years ago implemented a 48-hour turnaround on admissions decisions through a process that allows students to self-report their high school classes, something UNI and UI officials this summer announced they also will do.

ISU also this summer bumped up the first notification it gives students about admission. ISU, like many colleges and universities, in the past began in September notifying students about their admission for the next fall. ISU this year began notifying students on June 25, and has already admitted more than 900 Iowa applicants for fall 2013, Caffrey said. Earlier notification ties them to the university sooner and begins building that relationship, he said.

The UI bumped up its notification this year, from mid-September to Aug. 13, Barron said. Next year, UI officials hope to start even earlier, he said.

UNI is looking at earlier admissions decisions starting next year, Admissions Director Christie Kangas said.

While UNI doesn’t want to lose ground on resident applications and enrollments, officials there have made attracting more out-of-state and international students a priority, Kangas said. UNI’s enrollment is already more than 90 percent resident students, and officials want to boost non-resident enrollment for ethnic and geographical diversity, and because those students boost the budget via higher tuition levels, she said. 



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