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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Enrollment at Iowa’s public universities is down this summer after a pandemic-plagued fall and spring — dragging Iowa State University’s numbers to their lowest level in at least a decade and resurrecting 90s-era University of Iowa summer counts.
A total 10,871 undergraduate, graduate and professional students are enrolled in the UI’s summer session — down nearly 300 from last summer and 3,281 from summer 2018.
ISU reports a total summer enrollment of 9,074 — or 771 below last summer and nearly 3,000 below summer 2017. It’s ISU’s lowest summer tally in at least a decade.
The University of Northern Iowa reports a summer enrollment of 2,792 — down 4 percent from last summer’s 2,898 and 18 percent below 2019’s 3,397.
Fewer summer students on campus means fewer tuition dollars — aggravating pandemic-driven budget concerns and exacerbating enrollment losses all three of the public universities experienced in the 2020-21 academic year.
With about 72 percent of undergraduate credit hours being delivered online, the UI enrollment in the spring fell to 28,320 — down 7 percent from 30,448 in the fall, when 76 percent of undergraduate hours were virtual.
The UI’s fall 2020 count — to begin the afflicted academic year — was nearly 3 percent below the previous fall and 6 percent under the campus’ most recent peak of 32,323 in fall 2017.
ISU, similarly, reported a spring 2021 tally of 29,368 — nearly 8 percent below its fall 2020 count of 31,825 and down 12 percent from its peak of 36,353 in fall 2016.
And UNI in the spring counted 8,680 students — 9 percent below its fall tally of 9,522, which was a massive 20 percent below the 12,000-some students UNI sustained for years before beginning its steady descent in fall 2018.
Although the Iowa Board of Regents for the last academic year froze tuition because of the pandemic — halting its five-year plan to raise ISU and UI rates at a predictable pace — regents are scheduled later this month to boost revenue with a 3.5 percent tuition hike for UI and ISU state resident undergraduates. The rate of increase could vary for non-resident or graduate students and those in more expensive programs.
And after keeping tuition flat for two academic years, UNI also is planning to raise rates for all its students by 1.5 percent this fall.
Although summer course delivery looks somewhat similar to last fall and spring — with 63 percent of UI undergraduate instruction in virtual mode, under last summer’s 91 percent but above the pre-pandemic 35 percent in summer 2019 — all three public universities this fall are vowing a return to mostly normal.
“Effective for the fall 2021 semester, the institutions are required to return to offering in-person academic coursework and educational experiences to the same extent such academic coursework or educational experiences were offered in-person prior to the pandemic,” regents President Mike Richards said in a May 20 statement.
Regents are letting the institutions explore hybrid or distance learning options only in consultation with the board.
“The institutions are expected to resume traditional student life activities and opportunities effective for the fall 2021 semester,” Richards said in his remarks, which also required faculty and staff to return to campus and resume their traditional roles starting this week.
Although many higher education experts believe the limited on-campus experiences last year compelled the enrollment losses, the universities aren’t yet saying whether they expect the expected return to normalcy to translate to an enrollment surge in the fall.
Some students, for example, opted not to enroll or left campus due to illness, family concerns or lost jobs and revenue — issues that could persist or become more relevant with tuition hikes looming.
Still, Cornell College in Mount Vernon is reporting expectations that this fall will produce its “largest class in the past decade.” Where the private liberal-arts campus last fall welcomed a first-year class of 315 — for a total of 1,002 — Vice President for Enrollment Management Wendy Beckemeyer said numbers are trending up.
“We expect to be significantly above that number for this year,” she said. “Our target was 330, and we're above 350 right now.”
With Iowa’s high school graduates becoming more diverse — and financial concerns mounting across higher education — Beckemeyer said Cornell’s new “Iowa Promise Scholarship” could be tied to its anticipated fall boost.
The new scholarship offers at least $30,000 — renewable for up to four years — to any Iowa resident attending Cornell as a full-time, first-time residential student.
“We've seen really strong increases in a number of places,” Beckemeyer said. “We have more students of color. We have more engineers, more football players, more students from Iowa. Overall — across many, many more segments — we’re seeing increases.”
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