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IOWA CITY — Although Iowa’s regent universities still enroll far more Iowans than out-of-state residents, the gap between the two groups of students is narrowing — with all three public campuses reporting fewer resident students this fall than last fall.
With steep in-state student losses at Iowa State University — which in fall 2015 enrolled 21,064 Iowa residents, 3,533 more than the University of Iowa’s 17,531 — the UI today tops ISU’s resident enrollment of 16,696, which is down 21 percent from its 2015 peak.
The Board of Regents at their meeting next week will discuss those trends and more enrollment developments outlined in a new report — including continued massive international student losses.
“Chinese student enrollment declined for a seventh straight year,” according to the report, showing the total number of students from China across its three public universities has plummeted 78 percent from 4,374 in fall 2015 to 969 this fall.
Regarding in-state students, the UI began growing its resident student population in 2014 and 2015 after regents floated a proposed “performance-based funding model” tying state appropriations to resident enrollment. That model could have pulled nearly $48 million from the UI and made ISU the top-funded public university in the state.
Although the board never actually implemented the funding model, a UI surge in resident students by fall 2018 had it matching ISU in-state students — who pay lower tuition rates. At the same time, the UI began enrolling fewer of the higher-paying out-of-state students — at least until fall 2018, just after the Iowa Legislature in 2017 ordered midyear budget cuts amounting to $30.33 million across the regent system.
Since fall 2018, the UI has been building back its out-of-state enrollment, reaching 11,249 students this fall. That gives it the largest out-of-state enrollment of the campuses for the first time in nearly a decade, according to the board’s new enrollment report.
Out-of-state enrollment at both ISU and the University of Northern Iowa this fall continued to drop.
Dropping in-state student enrollment across all three campuses aligns with state and regional reports of a shrinking pool of college-bound prospects in the Midwest, which saw among the biggest enrollment losses across all types of public, private and community colleges from fall 2020 to fall 2022 during the pandemic.
Assessing total enrollment numbers for Iowa’s regent universities, the UI was the only of the three to report a slight half-percent increase. ISU saw enrollment fall another 2.4 percent and UNI enrollment dropped another 3 percent to 8,949 — its lowest count since 1967, when it had 8,213 students, and 36 percent below its enrollment peak of 14,070 in 2001.
Not helping has been the steep international student losses in recent years — with the campuses’ combined total of 4,046 down 52 percent from 8,358 in fall 2016. The UI’s 1,458 international students this fall is 36 percent below the pre-pandemic fall of 2019 and 65 percent below its 4,120 peak in fall 2015.
ISU has seen its international student enrollment fall 41 percent from its high of 4,131 in 2016 — a trend hitting not just Iowa but the entire country.
Freshmen up at UI, ISU
In reporting the high points from this fall’s enrollment numbers, both UI and ISU saw big jumps in first-year undergraduate students — with 5,178 UI freshmen, up nearly 15 percent over last year, and 5,728 ISU freshmen, up about 6 percent.
“The quality of the first-year undergraduate class continues to be strong,” according to the UI’s report to the Board of Regents. “The incoming undergraduate class again topped previous records in achievement with a higher average high school grade-point average (GPA), at 3.82, than any previous class and an average ACT score of 25.1.”
Because the regent system went “test optional” during the pandemic, about 52 percent of applicants submitted ACT or SAT scores in 2021 and 57 percent of applicants submitted the scores for this fall — where 100 percent did previously, when the scores were required for admission.
At UNI, after reporting a 5 percent increase in freshmen last year, the campus lost those gains with a nearly 8 percent drop in freshmen this fall.
All three campuses nonetheless reported growing diversity, with the total number of regent university students who identify as a racial or ethnic minority reaching 12,015 this fall — up 41 percent from 2013. The fastest-growing minority group is the Hispanic/Latinx population, which swelled 55 percent since 2013, while the number of those who identify as Black increased only slightly, by 1 percent.
Female students account for a growing percentage of the regent university total at all levels — undergraduate, graduate and professional. Women have accounted for more than half the undergraduate population since fall 2020, and their lead over the men is growing.
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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