Higher education

University of Iowa, Iowa State look to dial down enrollment growth

Fall enrollment at two schools sets records, UNI numbers decline slightly

People walk along the T. Anne Cleary Walkway on the campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
People walk along the T. Anne Cleary Walkway on the campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

The University of Iowa’s freshman class this fall broke another record at 5,643 students, but UI President Bruce Harreld said he doesn’t expect that growth to continue.

In fact, Harreld told the Board of Regents on Thursday, his campus is in an enrollment “sweet spot,” and the administration might “dial things down” — in terms of student growth — to take some pressure of the university systems.

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

Overall student population might grow in the next few years, Harreld said, due to retention and the “pipeline affect” of recent freshman increases — this year’s class includes 402 more students than in 2015. Last year’s 5,241 freshman represented an increase of 575 over 2014.

The UI’s total enrollment this fall reached 33,334 — compared to 32,150 in 2015 — and includes 24,476 undergraduates, which is above last fall’s 22,357. The university saw increases in both graduate and professional students, with totals of 5,698 and 1,837, respectively.

Harreld announced his school’s plans to “dial down” enrollment growth while also laying out budgeting goals that include increasing revenue by 4 to 4.5 percent over the next five years. In the 2018 budget year, that will look like $4.6 million more in state support, nearly $12 million in “campus-based resources” and savings, and more than $16 million in tuition and fee increases.

Those increases will go toward improving faculty salaries and focusing resources toward programmatic excellence and student success, Harreld said.


“The management of our upcoming class sizes will provide the opportunity for deliberate and specific movement toward our goals,” he said.

Right now, according to Harreld, faculty members are well used, the staff is right-sized, and the residence halls — including the new east side dorm going up — are “pretty much in a comfortable zone.”

“And so taking a major leap if you will, and say we‘re going to be a lot larger, I think would potentially be a really serious mistake,” Harreld said. “It would put a lot of pressure on all the things I just mentioned.”

Harreld said a freshman class of 5,400 to 5,700 is a “good class size for us year in and year out.” He called the total census of 33,334 students “right in a very sweet spot for us.”

When regent Subhash Sahai asked Harreld to justify increasing tuition while pulling back enrollment, Harreld said the university is making up for past “mistakes” in faculty pay.

“I think we’re paying for the lack of keeping up with the marketplace in terms of salaries across the board … a very high percentage of our faculty were well off the norms in terms of salaries,” Harreld said. “So I think we’re catching up for mistakes, if you will, I think we’ve made in the past. I think we’re well on the way to fixing those.”

UI several years ago launched a massive in-state advertising and recruiting campaign after the Board of Regents proposed a new funding model that would have tied state support to in-state enrollment. If lawmakers had taken the board’s recommendation, UI could have lost tens of millions of dollars.

In response, former UI President Sally Mason was vocal about the university’s plans to grow — especially as more buildings came back online following the 2008 flood.

But Harreld, who replaced Mason last year, said, “I’m trying to stop the culture that says every year each freshman class needs to be larger and larger and larger.”

“Why?” he said, “because we’re out of capacity. We’re just finishing a $100 million dorm. We don’t need another one. It’s going to be filled up lickity split.”

Harreld said he doesn’t expect dramatic decreases in recruiting efforts. But, he said, “We’ve been aggressively going across the country talking about the program.”

“We can dial that back,” he said.

Iowa State growth

Iowa State University President Steven Leath on Thursday reported another year of record freshman and total enrollment — with 6,325 freshman and 36,660 total students — maintaining its place as the largest public university in the state. ISU’s total student body is nearly 2 percent bigger than last year’s record-setting student body and 44 percent larger — or 11,198 students — than a decade ago.

But Leath also discussed dialing down the growth.

“In some regard we’re very excited to see the enthusiastic demand for an Iowa State education,” Leath said. “While the increase does set a new record, I think you’ll realize we’ve dialed back our growth significantly.”

Leath said the 94-student freshman increase over last year’s first-year class is “more what we would predict and plan for and more what we can affectively deal with.”

“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.

Leath did praise the diversity of this year’s ISU student body, noting its 36,660 total includes more non-resident students — 15,640 — than ever before. It also set a record with 4,131 international students from 125 countries.

“It’s a more diverse student body than we‘ve ever had,” he said.

UNI sees overall drop


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University of Northern Iowa Interim President Jim Wohlpart reported a freshman class of 2,000 — the largest since 2008. But its total enrollment was 11,905 — down from the 11,981 last fall.

“Our total enrollment as of census last Friday was lower than expected,” Wohlpart. “We were hoping to break 12,000.”

But, he stressed, the decline holds some “good news” in that it is tied to increases in three- and four-year graduation rates.

“Our students are graduating faster than ever,” Wohlpart said. “This is good news … but that means that they’re not with us any longer and we can’t count them in our enrollment numbers.”

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