Iowa university enrollment up, growth expected to taper

University of Iowa students walk past the College of Business on the T. Anne Cleary Walkway on campus in Iowa City on Thursday, December 18, 2014. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
University of Iowa students walk past the College of Business on the T. Anne Cleary Walkway on campus in Iowa City on Thursday, December 18, 2014. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

More students than ever enrolled at Iowa’s public universities this fall — the collective total reached 81,899, which is 2.2 percent above the 80,132 in fall 2015.

Ten years ago, total enrollment — including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students at University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and University of Northern Iowa — was 69,178, meaning the institutions have seen an 18 percent spike over the decade.

Much of that growth has been at Iowa State, which has seen 10 straight years of enrollment increases, making it the largest public university in Iowa with 36,600 students — 44 percent more than a decade ago.

Board of Regents documents discussed Wednesday incorrectly reported growth projections for this fall of 5,649 more students across the three campuses — well above the actual 1,767-student bump. That increase topped the correct projection of 1,048, which board staff provided The Gazette on Wednesday evening.

But even as the Board of Regents this fall is looking at its largest and most diverse collective student body that also boasts more new freshmen, more Iowans, more students living on campus, and more students enrolled in STEM-related programs, growth is expected to slow.

Projections show 1,190 more students expected in fall 2017 — about 33 percent below this fall’s actual growth.

And UI and Iowa State leaders last month said they don’t intend to make continued growth a primary goal going forward.


“Size, I don’t believe, is a successful strategy for an institution like ours,” UI President Harreld told regents at their September meeting. “The size we’re at is fully utilized, and I think quite well for the resources we have on campus.”

UI this fall saw the largest enrollment bump among the three institutions — going from 32,150 in 2015 to 33,334. But Harreld said the plan is to “dial down” growth while trying to increase revenue by 4 to 4.5 percent over the next five years.

ISU President Steve Leath shared similar thoughts. Although he’s highlighted to the school’s 23 percent enrollment increase since 2011 as a “point of pride,” Leath last month said his school has dialed down its growth significantly in an effort to continue meeting student needs with a limited pool of resources.

“If we are going to maintain high quality and accessibility and affordability with a limited increase in resources, we’ve got to manage enrollment a little more affectively,” Leath said.

This year’s freshmen increase of 94 students, he said, is “more what we would predict and plan for and more what we can affectively deal with.”

UNI, meanwhile, still identifies growth as part of its vision — as the university has faced budget woes in recent years with its majority in-state students who don’t pay for the cost of their education in tuition like out-of-state students. UNI this fall was the only regent university that did not see an overall enrollment increase — welcoming 76 fewer students in its 11,905 total.

But Jason Pontius, director of institutional research for the board office, during Wednesday’s regents meeting said projections show a reversal in that trend.

“UNI is probably projecting the most growth going forward,” Pontius said.

Regents President Pro Tem Katie Mulholland highlighted the challenges involved in enrollment management.


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“We have to consider capacity, and that includes not only space, but professors and support,” Mulholland said.

Other highlights from the enrollment report:

International student enrollment across the three campuses decreased by 187 students — or 2.1 percent — to 8,590. Most of the universities’ international students came from Asia, 88.1 percent — with 49.3 percent coming from China.

The number of self-identified students with disabilities grew by 323 students — or 14.4 percent — to 2,570.

A total 4,012 students transferred to the universities this fall, an increase of 68 students or 1.7 percent over last year. Both UNI and ISU saw decreases in transfer students, while UI enrolled 249 more — or 24.5 percent over last year.

When looking at gender, the universities enrolled 2.1 percent more women and men — equal to 809 more women for a total 40,040 and 866 more men for a total 41,859.

The number of students receiving veteran affairs benefits grew slightly — by six students — to a total of 1,409. The number of veterans not receiving benefits at the universities increased 2 percent to 410.

Enrollment of students in STEM-related programs increased by 1,466 — or 4.3 percent — to 35,756.


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