Education

University of Iowa summer school swells with last chance for grant

Iowa State University sees slight dip from last summer's record

Julia Rohn of Dubuque reads a book Friday on the steps of the Old Capitol in Iowa City. Rohn is a recent graduate of the University of Iowa and is now a docent at the Old Capitol Museum. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)
Julia Rohn of Dubuque reads a book Friday on the steps of the Old Capitol in Iowa City. Rohn is a recent graduate of the University of Iowa and is now a docent at the Old Capitol Museum. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa is reporting its highest summertime enrollment in at least a decade, including nearly 5,000 who are tapping into its soon-to-be defunct Summer Hawk Tuition Grant.

The 4,962 students taking advantage of the program this summer are more than double the 2,161 who benefited in summer 2017 — just before UI executives last fall announced plans to cancel the scholarship program, which is not based on financial need, after 2018 to help weather sharp state funding cuts.

The number of Summer Hawk grant recipients this season is nearly 16 times greater than the number awarded grants in the program’s first year in 2014.

That year, the campus debuted the offer of a full-tuition scholarship for up to 12 hours of summer study to undergraduates from Iowa. For qualifying non-residents, the grant covered part of the costs for qualifying — all with the goal of reducing the time it takes students to graduate, potentially saving them money and curtailing student debt.

“Unfortunately, after four years, we’re finding that there are many factors that impact time to graduation that are not specifically addressed by Summer Hawk,” Lon Moeller, former associate provost for undergraduate education and dean of the University College, said in November when the university announced the cancellation. “And with diminishing resources from the state, we have to channel our efforts to where we can have the greatest positive impact on improving graduation rates.”

The Iowa Legislature, faced with budget shortfalls, has cut support for the three public universities by more than $40 million in a year and a half.

In the summer program’s last gasp, however, its surge in recipients is costing the university 43 percent more. The $6.2 million spent in the summer 2017 on the program has swelled to $8.9 million.

And that’s even after the university trimmed the number of hours it would cover from 12 to a maximum of six. It also comes after about 344 students canceled their awards either due to withdrawal or a change in status that altered their eligibility.

The tuition grant recipients account for 55 percent of the 8,957 UI undergraduates enrolled this summer, the most since at least 2008.

The university also saw increases in its graduate and professional student summer enrollment, upping its total summer tally from 12,987 to 14,151.

On the other hand, summer enrollment at Iowa State University is down 385 students from last summer’s record-setting 12,060 students. Both the UI and ISU presidents in recent years have said they’d like to curb the student growth that is stretching their shrinking resources.

“Our overall enrollment continues to be strong,” Laura Doering, ISU associate vice president for enrollment management and student success, said in a statement. "After a decade of enrollment increases, the university is experiencing a slight decline in overall enrollment as larger classes are graduating and being replaced by smaller new classes.”

During the 2017-2018 school year, ISU graduated a record number of students, with 8,310 degrees conferred. And the 11,675 summer total, while down from last year, is on par with many past summers — the last five of which averaged 11,679.

ISU, like the UI, made a change for this summer that could have affected its enrollment to a degree — stopping for the first time a summer trial program for new freshmen who don’t meet minimum requirements for admission under a Board of Regents formula. The summer program — which served only about 50 a semester — was replaced “by other strategies to support at-risk first-year students,” according to an ISU news release.

The University of Northern Iowa, unlike its peers, does not yet have summer enrollment numbers.

“This is due to several factors including multiple summer sessions, myriad start times for continuing education summer courses as well as variants in course duration,” according to Aaron Clingingsmith, interim director for the Office of University Relations for UNI. “Currently, we are still enrolling students for summer courses with our second session just starting Monday of this week.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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