Iowa State University, University of Iowa stall enrollment growth

State's largest universities to focus on quality over quantity

(File photo) Students walk down a sidewalk from Curtiss Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on March 31, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
(File photo) Students walk down a sidewalk from Curtiss Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on March 31, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Iowa State University — which has seen its student body swell 44 percent in the last decade — has succeeded in slowing its growth, according to new fall enrollment figures announced Thursday.

University of Iowa, likewise, reported a slightly smaller freshman class at 5,029 — making it the third-largest class in UI history after two record-setting years. Its total enrollment remains up slightly — at 33,564 from 33,334 last fall.

The state’s largest public universities in recent months have expressed intentions to focus on quality over quantity as state support wanes, hurting the schools’ ability to attract and retain top faculty and continue offering an elite academic experience to what have been growing student bodies.

Iowa State University this fall is counting 36,321 undergraduate, graduate and professional students — compared with 36,660 last year. Its freshman class, like at Iowa, is smaller than last year — 5,944 compared with 6,325 in fall 2016.

University of Northern Iowa, which unlike its counterparts has intentions to grow, reported flat total enrollment this fall — 11,907, compared with 11,905 last fall. Its new freshman class is smaller than last year’s 2,000 students, with 1,834 enrolled this fall.

UNI’s total undergraduate enrollment is down nearly 100 students — at 10,005, compared with 10,104 last fall. Countering that decline is an increase in UNI graduate students — 1,902 are signed up, compared with 1,801 last year.

The universities’ different goals and diverging realities exemplify the variances among the campus missions and operations, which the presidents have cited in calling for disparate tuition rates and state appropriations.


The Board of Regents later this year will consider increasing tuition rates on all three campuses after state lawmakers in the last Legislative session took back more than $20 million from the regent universities’ general education funds in the 2017 budget year. The Legislature then cut another nearly $10 million from its base funding for the public universities in the budget year that started in July.

Fall enrollment at UI, ISU and UNI

University of Iowa and ISU administrators over the summer pitched five-year tuition plans that would increase resident undergraduate rates 7 percent each year if the state does not increase regent appropriations. University of Northern Iowa President Mark Nook has proposed a less severe annualized 2.5 percent tuition increase for five years — but that’s only if state support increases 1.75 percent a year.

If state support stays flat, UNI’s proposed annualized increase is nearly 5 percent.

Iowa State and UI on Thursday noted efficiencies underway across the campuses — in addition to halting growth that would have stretched shrinking budgets even further.

UI President Bruce Harreld, specifically, reported a regents-wide efficiency review on his campus has allowed for reinvestment of $16.6 million since the 2016 budget year, with the largest chunk projected for this year.

Going forward, according to Harreld, the university intends to save and reallocate $11 million to $12 million in its strategic plan. The university, he said, needs to invest $155 million to $165 million in its strategic plan to improve student outcomes through — specifically — retaining and hiring elite faculty, increasing research and scholarship, and improving student programming.

Harreld, in his enrollment report, also noted increases in first-generation and resident students at Iowa — aligning with his campus’ mission. Nearly 23 percent of the new first-year class at UI — or 1,145 — are first-generation students, while nearly 58 percent — or 2,907 — are Iowa residents.

University of Iowa enrollment numbers exclude the 157 students enrolled exclusively in the Iowa Intensive English Program — affecting slightly any comparison with past years. Degree-seeking students who might also be taking a class through IIEP were counted, according to UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck.

“Because not all of the students enrolled exclusively in the IIEP program matriculate to the UI, Provost (Sue) Curry determined they should not be counted as part of our student body until they do,” Beck said.


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Iowa State University Interim President Ben Allen reported, despite the decreases, his campus this fall welcomed its most diverse student body. It’s international and U.S. multicultural representation totals 8,789 — a record — and its international students represent 127 countries, also a record.

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