All three Iowa universities expect enrollment drops this fall

Tuition hikes for Iowa, Iowa State will make up enrollment declines

A Board of Regents meeting at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City on Wednesday, Sep. 6, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
A Board of Regents meeting at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City on Wednesday, Sep. 6, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

All three of Iowa’s public universities are expecting enrollment dips this fall — aligning with University of Iowa and Iowa State University goals to right-size their student bodies and bucking University of Northern Iowa efforts to grow.

Those projections are laid out in newly-released documents supporting a $6 billion Board of Regents budget for 2019, scheduled for approval next week. The budget incorporates widely-publicized cuts in state support along with new revenue from recently approved tuition increases: resident undergraduates will see rates jump 3.8 percent at UI and ISU and 2.8 percent at UNI.

The board approved higher increases and rates for students in costlier programs — with differential tuition more widely used at Iowa State and UI. The new rates have those two institutions projecting bumps in tuition revenue for the fall — despite anticipated enrollment declines.

University of Iowa, while projecting a smaller freshman class thanks to focused “enrollment management efforts,” expects to generate $5.5 million more from tuition this year than last. Iowa State, while planning for a slight decline in total enrollment, expects to bring in $10.2 million more than last.

Even though UNI similarly raised rates for this fall, its enrollment declines are expected to drag down tuition revenue — dropping it $1.6 million from a year ago. UNI enrollment this fall is expected at 11,600 — 235 fewer students than last, according to board documents. University officials have openly grappled with how to attract more students while also raising the price, indicating openness to greater divergence from its sister universities when it comes to cost and annual increases.

Because UNI was the only of Iowa’s three public universities to escape midyear state funding cuts in the 2018 term, its overall 2019 budget is expected to inch up to $180 million.

UI, which absorbed a midyear budget cut of $5.2 million before the state restored $3.2 million for the new year, expects an overall $5.4 million budget increase for 2019 — for a total $745 million general university budget. Iowa State, which experienced a similar cut and restoration, expects an overall $8.8 million budget increase — totaling $662 million.


Tuition is supporting a growing majority of the Board of Regents enterprise, accounting for 65 percent of its general university composite resources compared with 45 percent a decade ago and 21 percent in 1981.

New numbers show Iowa State relying the most on tuition — getting 71 percent of general funds from students and families, compared with 65 percent at UI and 45 percent at UNI. Northern Iowa relies the most on state support, reporting 53 percent of its general funds from the Legislature, compared with 29 percent at UI and 26 percent at Iowa State.

In addition to tuition increases, the universities have employed creative measures to absorb state funding cuts. UI President Bruce Harreld, for example, announced a campuswide moratorium on new construction through September; a faculty pay freeze through the end of the calendar year; plans to close seven centers and cut funding for others; and the elimination of some non-need-based scholarship programs.

“Midyear reductions in state funding continue to negatively affect the (University of Iowa),” according to board documents, which indicate the fallout could continue. “During FY 2019, SUI will identify, evaluate, and possibly discontinue activities in which state resources are no longer sufficient to support these functions.”

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