Enrollment is down but expected to recover

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After steady growth since Utah Valley University received promoted status from a college to a university, enrollment at UVU is down from 33,000 in fall of 2011 to 30,000 in the fall of 2013.

President Matthew Holland’s administration believes that the decline is the result of a combination of different factors including an unexpected announcement from the LDS church that lowered the age requirement of missionaries, an improved economy and the new limited concurrent enrollment scope. As of fall 2013, the 18-22 year-old demographic was 9% smaller than fall 2012.

Admissions standards were adjusted in 2012, but in his State of the University address, Holland said this was not the cause of the decline and had increased retention from the third week headcount to the end of term headcount.

“We’ve experienced a decline in our enrollment measured at [the] third week, but the most significant factor involved was not our enrollment practices, but was the aforementioned LDS mission age change and the continuing improvement of the economy, drawing more students into the work force,” said Holland.

The new age guidelines for mission services were announced by the LDS church in October 2012 – early enough to affect the enrollment decline seen in 2013, but too late to be responsible for the decline seen in fall 2012. The number of LDS missionaries rose from 58,500 at the time of the change to 75,000 by August 2013. Enrollment by the university’s count went from 33,395 three weeks into the fall 2011 term to 31,556 three weeks into the fall 2012 term and 30,760 three weeks into the fall 2013 term.

Brigham Young University’s 2013 freshman class was also considerably smaller. The university still accepted freshmen and allowed them to defer for the length of their missions without giving the spots away.

Between fall 2011 and fall 2012, UVU’s more substantial enrollment dip, the University of Utah, Weber State University, Southern Utah University, and Snow College all reflected slight increases in enrollment, and USU, Dixie State University and SLCC all reflected slight decreases. The overall trend in enrollment for the state didn’t change significantly.

“The combination of structured enrollment, the improving economy and limiting our concurrent enrollment, all of that showed a decrease in our 2012 enrollment,” said Dr. Kyle Reyes, Special Assistant to the President at UVU.

Nationally, enrollment had been trending upward, adding 3.2 million students between 2006 and 2011, before falling at about the same time UVU’s enrollment fell. Between fall 2011 and fall 2012 (when UVU student population fell roughly 1,800), the national student population lost 467,000 students.

UVU remains an open admissions institution, but implemented a structured enrollment, which gives stricter attention to perspective students that do not meet standards. The university had been offering concurrent enrollment to the entire state, but decided to cut back to a smaller region.

The Utah System of Higher Education projects enrollment in higher education institutions across Utah to bounce back by 2015, when the first surge of LDS missionaries since the announcement return. Even after the shift resolves, the USHE estimates that UVU’s headcount will increase by roughly 3.9-4% annually, to reach an estimated 46,800 by 2020.

The USHE calculates projections for each institution using enrollment history, state population projections and high school enrollment information.

There is a K-12 bubble in Utah. Classes are getting exponentially bigger, and within the next couple years, universities will see larger waves of students.

Policies affect the projections as well. Utah has a goal of 66% of its adult population having a degree or certificate by 2020.

As part of that plan, there are four institutions designated as “growth institutions” – UVU, WSU, Dixie and SLCC. These institutions are expected to take the bulk of the growth.

“It’s part of our charge as an open admissions university to be one of the portals for growth and we embrace that,” said Reyes. UVU is expected to become Utah’s largest university.  UVU currently has the third-largest student population, after the U and SLCC. Currently, less than half of UVU’s operating budget comes from the state.

“Whether you look at what is a percentage of our base budget coming from state appropriations or what the state expenditure is per full-time equivalent student, UVU gets the lowest level of support of any institution in the state,” said Holland.

Members of the state legislature are working to rectify the inequality of funding for UVU.