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Total new undergraduate transfers to the University of Northern Iowa have dropped nearly 40 percent over the past decade — with a coinciding drop in transfer students from Iowa community colleges — and UNI is looking elsewhere to boomerang its numbers.
UNI on Monday unveiled a new articulation agreement with the entire Illinois Community College System — a 48-college collective serving nearly 700,000 students annually — that commits to recognize Illinois transfers with associate of arts degrees as having met UNI’s general education requirements.
Those transfer students also will be eligible for a $5,000 out-of-state award, according to UNI officials. UNI’s undergraduate non-resident base tuition for the coming fall increased 1.5 percent — or $273 — to $18,480. Its mandatory fees remain unchanged at $1,273.
UNI’s total cost of attendance for non-resident students both at the undergraduate and graduate level has been hovering in the middle of its 11-member peer group — prompting UNI to freeze tuition in recent years to up its competitive advantage in the face of enrollment losses.
Total UNI enrollment has fallen 28 percent since 2010 — from 13,201 in fall 2010 to 9,522 in fall 2020, according to UNI records. Graduate enrollment is down 32 percent over that same period, and undergraduate enrollment has dropped 27 percent.
And although the 9 percent drop from fall 2019 to 2020 — in the throes of the pandemic — was the steepest in the past decade, UNI’s recent enrollment decline started in fall 2018 with a 6 percent drop that year and in the year that followed.
Looking only at new undergraduate transfer students, UNI has seen annual declines since 2018 — with a 10 percent loss that year from fall 2017, a 9 percent loss in 2019, and a 5 percent loss in 2020.
On top of UNI’s nearly 40 percent loss in new undergraduate transfers from Iowa-based community colleges over the past decade, it’s seen a 60 percent drop in new undergraduate transfers from outside Iowa — including two-year community colleges such as those in its new Illinois agreement.
Where UNI saw 47 new undergrad transfers from non-Iowa two-year institutions in 2015, it reported 18 in fall 2020 — amounting to a 62 percent slide.
A new Board of Regents community college transfer report presented in a meeting last week found Iowa community college transfers are down systemwide — from a total of 2,092 in fall 2019 to 1,908 in fall 2020, a 9 percent drop.
The University of Iowa saw the biggest one-year drop of 10 percent from 645 Iowa community college transfers in fall 2019 to 582 last fall. Officials who wrote the report cite slipping overall postsecondary enrollment as one cause.
While 69 percent of Iowa high school graduates enrolled in postsecondary education in 2014, about 64 percent did in 2019.
“Over the past eight years there has been a general decline in fall semester transfer students from Iowa community colleges,” according to the board report. “This is mostly attributed to significant declines in the number of students attending Iowa community colleges over that time period based on the high school trend noted above as well as other workforce and economic factors with adult students.”
UNI’s new transfer collaboration with Illinois’ community college system — which spans 39 community college districts across the state — aims to make out-of-state transferring easier.
“This agreement provides a wonderful opportunity for transfer students to seamlessly make their way to UNI and earn a four-year degree,” UNI provost Jose Herrera said in a statement.
Cooperating for decades
Iowa’s public universities have been collaborating with its community colleges since the 1970s, drafting a first statewide articulation agreement in 1973. That deal stipulated students who earned an associate degree at an Iowa community college are guaranteed to not only have satisfied their general education requirements but have as many as 65 credits applied toward their bachelor’s degree.
Additional and ongoing transfer efforts have continued over the ensuing generations — including pushes for concurrent enrollment, allowing students to earn college credit while in high school; 2+2 degree programs, fast-tracking community college students who know the four-year degree they want to pursue; and reverse credit programs allowing transfer students to earn associate’s degrees retroactively, even if they leave their community colleges for a public university before doing so.
UNI officials on Monday didn’t provide The Gazette a copy of the Illinois system articulation agreement, which officials said is specifically about general education coursework. It mirrors the agreement UNI has with all the community colleges in Iowa, and students work with advisers and UNI’s transfer team to discuss how specific credits transfer, according to UNI spokesman Steve Schmadeke.
“UNI has worked to recruit students in surrounding states for decades and is pleased that this new agreement will make it easier for Illinois community college students to become Panthers,” Schmadeke said.
In announcing the new deal, UNI touted its ranking on Phi Theta Kappa’s annual “transfer honor roll” for institutions showing “excellence in helping community college students successfully transition to institutions offering four-year degrees.”
UNI and Iowa State University made this year’s list, but the UI did not.
Among the campuses’ many efforts to accommodate and encourage transfers, UNI last year launched a partnership with Des Moines Area Community College that moved some UNI staff to the DMACC urban campus to promote UNI’s online degrees to Des Moines-area students who can’t move.
And although its Illinois agreement was just inked, UNI senior Maddie Inman said she was allowed to transfer to UNI from Black Hawk College in Moline this past fall under an informal version of the deal.
In a statement, Inman said, “Everyone here was really friendly and they made it really welcoming.”
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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