IOWA CITY — A week after a member of his administration warned of an approaching “enormous” drop in high school graduates that threatens profound shifts across higher education in the nation, University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld said Thursday his institution actually expects a “meaningful uptick” in students this fall.
“We’re very creatively looking to make sure we have adequate space for all the students that we’re seeing coming in,” Harreld told the Board of Regents during a telephone meeting focused on the public universities’ fiscal 2020 budgets.
Enrollment plays an integral role in regent university budgets, which have become heavily reliant on tuition income as state appropriations have waned.
But unlike the UI, leaders of both of Iowa’s other public universities — the University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University — on Thursday aired expectations of enrollment dips this fall.
UNI officials reported the most dramatic enrollment and budget shifts for the new year, with a projected 600-student drop from last fall. That would bring UNI’s total enrollment to its lowest point in 43 years.
Because UNI froze all tuition rates this fall in hopes of remaining competitive with other regional universities as its pool of prospects shrinks, the school’s tuition revenue is expected to drop $6.6 million.
In response, UNI — according to regent documents — is cutting course sections, increasing class sizes, reducing the number of faculty and trimming its student financial aid budget by $1.2 million.
The faculty reductions, “largely through attrition and retirements,” are expected to drive down salary and benefit costs $3 million.
During Thursday’s board meeting, UNI President Mark Nook mentioned his school’s 10,600-enrollment projection “with a 200 student contingency” — which means it could be better or worse than projected.
He said “UNI is focused on growing our enrollment while maintaining a strong connection for UNI and our graduates to Iowa’s economy.”
But he did not elaborate on the course reductions, class size increases, faculty cuts and aid decreases. And the regents did not ask him any questions.
Iowa State also expects enrollment to drop.
“We will have fewer students enrolled in Iowa State University in the coming year, which further reduces our overall income,” ISU President Wendy Wintersteen told the regents. “Iowa State also is seeing lower international enrollment, which is a major issue for universities nationwide, as international students choose Canadian or European universities.”
International students pay high tuition rates, which means a decline in international enrollment can put a disproportionately large dent in a campus budget.
Still, both the UI and ISU are projecting larger general education budgets this year thanks in part to a $4 million boost in state appropriations each and across-the-board tuition increases, including nearly 4% bumps for resident undergraduates.
Those rate hikes, plus a nearly 5 percent increase for nonresidents and graduate students at ISU, are allowing the Ames campus to project a $4.6 million increase in tuition revenue this year despite the enrollment losses. And while the UI is expecting more students, it’s projecting $5.1 million less in tuition revenue due to the school’s elimination of a popular financial aid program “and other projected enrollment changes” — details of which haven’t been disclosed.
Harreld echoed the comments of his vice president for enrollment management last week and acknowledged expectations that this fall’s enrollment bump might be short-lived.
“So I think we’re starting to prepare ourselves potentially, even in the Midwest, for at least a stalling in the U.S. students that will be potentially interested in our university,” he said.
That preparation, Harreld said, involves setting his institution apart.
“The one mechanism that we’re focused on is being distinct, having a major differentiator for every key program we have on campus,” he said. “I think we’re entering a world where enrollments could potentially be down. But I think better institutions will do quite fine, so I want to make sure we continue to stay there.”
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