Iowa regents universities seeing big increase in out-of-state students

Diane Heldt
Published: May 28 2010 | 11:01 am - Updated: 31 March 2014 | 1:39 am in
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The number of Iowa students enrolled at the state’s three regent universities has slowly declined in the past decade, while the number of students from other states has increased substantially.

It’s a trend that could continue — in the next several years, at least — as the universities see a shrinking pool of prospective in-state students because of declining high school enrollments. The University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa will, in part, look outside of Iowa’s borders for students to fill that gap, officials said.

“If we’re going to grow, it’s clearly going to come in large part from non-residents, although not exclusively,” UI interim Vice President for Student Services Tom Rocklin said.

The in-state undergraduate population at the three universities declined 6 percent from fall 1999 to fall 2009, while out-of-state undergraduates increased 30 percent. International enrollment also grew, up 61 percent in the past decade.

ISU wants to maintain its total enrollment, while UNI wants to maintain or grow slightly. The UI wants to increase enrollment by 100 first-year students each of the next five years. All three expect larger enrollment this fall.

“We feel pretty good about our overall enrollment right now, and our challenge will be to maintain that, if the demographic trend continues in Iowa,” ISU Admissions Director Marc Harding said. “To keep enrollment constant will mean reaching out to out-of-state students.”

The number of 12th-graders in Iowa’s public and private schools is expected to decline in the next five years, from 38,803 this fall to 36,941 in 2014, according to Iowa Department of Education projections. The numbers are expected to rebound a bit after that.

Recruiting more out-of-state students helps fill classrooms, and they pay higher tuition. They also help diversify the student body, officials said.

It can be more of a challenge for a regional institution like UNI, Admissions Director Christie Kangas said, but they launched initiatives in the Chicago area and the Minnesota Interstate 35 corridor.

“The majority of our students do still come from Iowa, but practically, we need to look at out-of-state students to fill out our classes and provide some diversification,” she said.

For the UI, adding 100 students each of five years will mean boosting enrollment in all areas, Admissions Director Mike Barron said. The UI already draws about 40 percent of its students from out of state, most from neighboring Illinois. Officials want to continue to nurture that pipeline, Barron said, while working with Iowa high schools to better prepare more graduates.

UI officials are working on a long-term plan to add more residence-hall space, in part to deal with expected growth.

A recent overhaul of regents admission criteria should result in more Iowa high-schoolers taking rigorous classes, with the aim of better preparing more of them for admission to the UI, ISU and UNI, officials said.

“We’re mindful of the flatness or the slight decline in the number of high school graduates,” Barron said. “I’m reasonably optimistic that the kinds of programs and expectations Iowa is asking for its school districts and its students will help compensate for that.”

Better retention of current students is another way all three universities want to boost enrollments.

The first priority, they said, remains educating Iowa students. The universities offer admission to all qualified Iowans who apply, but naturally, there will be a push to recruit more non-residents, officials said.

Touring the UI campus Monday, Tuscon, Ariz., resident Caitlin Goldsmith, 20, said she is considering transferring from community college. The distance doesn’t bother her; she has family in Newton and Grinnell.

She thinks some out-of-state students are looking for the “Midwestern feel.”

“It seems like the time they take with their students is top-notch,” she said, “but I’m still deciding. It would be a little more expensive.”

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