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IOWA CITY — Enrollment across all three of Iowa’s public universities dropped again this fall, according to new numbers made public Thursday, showing a slide beginning in fall 2017 and worsening when COVID-19 upended the higher education experience.
- The University of Iowa reported a total enrollment this fall of 29,909 students — down 539, or 2 percent, from last fall’s 30,448. It’s down 7 percent from 2017’s 32,323.
- Iowa State University reported a total enrollment of 30,708 students — down 1,117, or 4 percent, from last fall’s 31,825. It’s down 15 percent from 2017’s 35,993.
- And the University of Northern Iowa reported a total enrollment of 9,231 students — down 291, or 3 percent, from last fall’s 9,522. It’s down 22 percent from 2017’s 11,907.
For the campus’ freshmen classes only, the UI for the first time this fall is not counting those students who withdrew between the first day of classes and the official census date — putting its new class of 2025 at 4,521. When compared with the same date last year, the UI this fall saw an 11-freshman increase from 4,510.
ISU reported a 6 percent uptick in “first-year students,” from last fall’s 5,071 to 5,387 — recovering some of the 9 percent hit that class took last year.
And UNI reported a 5 percent climb in “this fall’s new freshman enrollment,” from 1,482 to 1,554 — including an increase in both Iowa and out-of-state residents, according to a UNI news release.
“We’re very encouraged by the continued growth of our freshman classes and the increases in our graduation rates,” UNI President Mark Nook said in a statement. “Both are a reminder of the appeal and value of the accessible, high-quality education offered through UNI.”
Those first-year numbers, however, are different from the “freshmen” counts each campus reports every fall to the Board of Regents — numbers yet to be released that include some students who take fewer credits.
All three universities are looking to rebound after last academic year began with lower enrollments and continued losing students — and, importantly, tuition revenue — in the pandemic. Following thousands of withdraws, UI’s 2021 spring enrollment was down 7 percent from its fall count; ISU’s spring tally was 8 percent down from fall 2020; and UNI’s spring student body was 9 percent below its fall enrollment, according to The Gazette’s reporting.
With lawmakers cutting appropriations amid COVID-19 and then refusing any increases for this budget year, Iowa’s public universities are leaning more heavily on tuition revenue. All three campuses imposed rate hikes for this fall and hoped to draw back students by promising a more normal college experience — even as the delta variant continues to drive cases.
The campuses have pointed to wide vaccine availability as the main difference — though the regents have prohibited the universities from requiring vaccination, masking or social distancing.
Since the fall semester began Aug. 23, 101 UI students and 59 employees have self-reported a positive test, according to UI data. ISU has identified 32 students with COVID-19 since Aug. 16. And UNI has reported 42 positives through its Student Health Center since Aug. 16.
Although total enrollment for the state’s universities was down, the campuses reported increasing quality metrics for new students.
“For the fifth year in a row, the university’s fall incoming undergraduate class has topped previous records in achievement with an average high school grade-point average of 3.81,” according to UI spokeswoman Anne Bassett.
ISU also reported an "academically strong“ new class, with an average GPA of 3.7.
“With nearly 60% of our students enrolled in a STEM major, Iowa State continues to demonstrate its leadership as the university of science and technology,” ISU President Wendy Wintersteen said in a statement.
The UI reported about 19 percent of its class of 2025 is first-generation students, and about 22 percent identify as a racial or ethnic minority.
Of UI’s 21,608 undergraduates — down from last fall’s 22,405 — about 45 percent are male and 55 percent are female. ISU’s undergraduate tally also slipped, from 26,846 to 25,808, as did UNI’s, from 8,304 to 7,981.
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