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A decade later, University of Iowa again state’s largest campus
University of Northern Iowa reports lowest total enrollment in 55 years
IOWA CITY — A decade after the University of Iowa could last call itself the largest higher education institution in the state, UI this fall has reclaimed that distinction — reporting higher total enrollment than Iowa State University for the first time since 2012.
Two weeks into the fall semester, UI on Thursday reported 30,015 total undergraduate, graduate, and professional students — up slightly over last fall’s 29,909, but still below its pre-pandemic count of 31,142 in fall 2019.
Iowa State reported a total fall enrollment of 29,969 — continuing what has become an annual slide from a peak of 36,291 in fall 2016. Iowa State’s 25,241 undergraduate students is down a bit from last fall’s 25,808; its graduate and professional cohort dropped from 4,900 to 4,728, according to preliminary reports released Thursday.
The Cyclones’ new first-year class, though, is up from 5,387 last fall to 5,728 this year — topping even its pre-COVID new first-year count of 5,597 in fall 2019.
UI’s new first-year student total this fall surged to 5,178 — up 15 percent over last fall’s 4,521; up 4 percent over its pre-pandemic tally of 4,970 in fall 2019; and marking the third largest new first-year count in school history.
UI’s 21,973 undergraduate total is up 365 over last fall but still below 2019 and even 2020 levels — indicating the strength of its 8,042 graduate and professional student cohort, which is nearly 70 percent larger than Iowa State’s.
While UI and ISU on Thursday reported stronger first-year classes, University of Northern Iowa continues to face enrollment losses — including with its new first-year class of 1,436, down 8 percent from last fall’s 1,554 and 17 percent from fall 2013.
Its total fall enrollment of 8,949 is down 3 percent from last fall’s count and marks the lowest total enrollment for the Cedar Falls campus in 55 years, since its 8,213-student body in 1967.
Given UNI and ISU’s loss in total enrollment, the combined count of students for all three regent campuses decreased year over year — falling to its lowest level since at least 2007.
Combined regent university enrollment was higher two decades ago — topping 70,000 in 2002 — than it is today.
At UNI, its 7,739 undergraduates this fall represents a 3 percent drop from last fall and a 14 percent slide from fall 2019. UNI’s 1,210 graduate students is down slightly from 1,250 last fall, 20 percent from fall 2019, and 32 percent from 2013.
After announcing over the summer a new immediately-active UNI@IACC initiative — collaborating with Iowa’s community colleges to simplify the transfer process to UNI — the campus this fall saw a 23 percent increase in transfer students, from 623 to 764.
Of UNI’s 764 transfer students, 77 came through the new UNI@IACC — announced only weeks ago as a way Iowans with an associate degree from any of the state’s community colleges can earn an online UNI bachelor’s degree in high-demand areas like business administration, criminal justice and elementary education.
UNI also reported its fall 2022 incoming class reflects the state’s increasing diversity — noting a 24 percent jump in students who identify as ethnic or racial minorities.
At UI, about 21 percent of its incoming freshman class are first-generation college students, and about 20 percent identify as an ethnic minority.
“I can already tell that the class of 2026 is going to be an exceptionally engaged class and that they will quickly make their mark on campus,” UI Vice President of Student Life Sarah Hansen said in a statement.
About 54 percent of the incoming UI class are Iowa residents — with the rest coming from 44 other U.S. states and territories and 40 countries.
Iowa State on Thursday reported its students come from all 99 Iowa counties, 50 states, and 114 countries. UNI’s total enrollment includes students from every county in Iowa, 43 states, and 51 countries.
That campus reported a vast majority — 92 percent of undergrads and 91 percent of all students — come from Iowa.
“These statistics highlight UNI's continued commitment to student access and success,” UNI President Mark Nook said in a statement. “UNI has the lowest net cost for Iowa residents, and its graduates hold the lowest average student loan debt of all public universities in Iowa.”
Four of five UNI graduates and nine of 10 UNI transfer student graduates stay in Iowa to live and work after they get their degree, Nook said.
“These strong student outcomes, paired with affordability, lead to exceptional value for UNI students and for the state of Iowa,” he said.
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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