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UNI using ‘multipronged approach’ to turn around enrollment drop

The campanile on the University of Northern Iowa campus on August 26, 2019. (Mary Green/KCRG)
The campanile on the University of Northern Iowa campus on August 26, 2019. (Mary Green/KCRG)(KCRG)
Published: Aug. 26, 2019 at 9:17 PM CDT
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Classes started up again Monday at Iowa’s public universities, and at all three of them, enrollment has also been decreasing over the last few years.

While it’s too early in the school year for the official enrollment to be calculated, the University of Northern Iowa expects another decrease this year.

Last year, UNI’s enrollment was just over 11,000 students, the lowest since the 1980s, and it was a big drop from even eight years ago, when there were more than 13,000 students on campus.

Senior Jenny Krause said she can see — and hear — how many fewer students there are than when she started.

“When I just go up and down here, there’s not hardly anything, hardly any talking at all, like there used to be my freshman year,” she said. “There was talking everywhere, and now there’s hardly anything.”

Krause said in her experience, fewer students have led to fewer professors and more crowded classes.

“It is very frustrating,” she said. “Like when I go to make my schedule, sometimes there’s only two class sections, and I have to choose one. It’s for my graduation, so I just have to do it.”

Dropping enrollment is one of the biggest challenges the university currently faces, a point made by University President Mark Nook in his beginning-of-the-year address Monday.

“The number of students coming out of high schools has dropped between 2010 and today,” he said. “We’ve also seen a really hot economy, and as the economy gets hot, there are a good number of students who choose not to go into higher ed. They take a job.”

Nook said UNI is using a “multipronged approach” to turn the enrollment trend around.

That includes working to recruit more high school students who may not have seen themselves attending college.

“We need more of our students who are graduating from Iowa’s high schools, especially underserved students, to realize the opportunities that higher education presents to them throughout their lives,” he said.

Nook said UNI is developing grants to attract more students from neighboring states, especially Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and bring down out-of-state tuition costs.

However, about 90 percent of its student population is from Iowa, and he said he expects that percentage to remain that high.

“What we really want to do is grow our market share of the students coming from Iowa high schools to UNI,” Nook said.

To help with that, UNI’s tuition remained the same from last year to this year, while costs at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University increased.

That's a move Krause, an in-state student, said she appreciates, but she also believes UNI should recruit more in bigger cities, like her hometown of Des Moines.

“I think that’s all we can do at this point is just try and see if we can get our numbers back up because we need it,” she said.

When UNI released its fall 2018 enrollment numbers last year, the university also announced that its goal was to increase enrollment up to 13,500 students by 2023.

Nook said that enrollment number is still the goal, but he does not believe UNI will accomplish it in the next four years.