Enrollment drops at Utah State University for the second year in a row

Public college and university enrollment in Utah increased by more than 4,800 students, according to new data from the Utah System of Higher Education.

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) The Old Main Building at Utah State University. USU saw a decrease in its total enrollment this year, continuing a downward trend since 2016.

Utah State University was one of two institutions in the state’s higher education system that did not see an enrollment bump in 2017, the second time in as many years the Logan school has bucked statewide trends.

USU saw an uptick of 49 “full-time equivalent” students, or FTE, an important metric for per-student funding and budgeting. But the school‘s total headcount fell by 439, a decrease of 1.56 percent compared to fall 2016, according to data released Wednesday by the Utah System of Higher Education.

The total headcount at Salt Lake Community College also decreased, with 281 fewer students enrolled at the school this year. But like USU, SLCC’s number of full-time equivalent showed growth compared to 2016.

In an announcement on USU’s website, administrators said sluggish growth was expected after a series of changes to out-of-state scholarships and a new tuition deal that charges students a uniform price for 12 or more semester credits.

“We are already seeing evidence that more students are taking 15 credits, which of course means they will graduate sooner and therefore will save money,” John Mortensen, USU‘s assistant vice president for Enrollment Services and Retention, said in a statement. “We’ve made it easier financially to take a larger load, which means students university-wide can see savings.”

The 2017 numbers follow a similar 1.76 percent decline in USU’s headcount last year. At the time, Mortensen said the dip in enrollment was due to fewer students taking online courses and a leveling-off after an atypically large freshman class entered the school in 2015.

Utah Valley University in Orem retained its position as the state’s largest school in terms of total headcount. UVU added 2,304 students this fall, an increase of 6.59 percent compared to 2016.

But in terms of full-time students, University of Utah remained the state’s largest with an FTE count of 27,984, 1.98 percent more than last year.

Overall, the 8 public colleges and universities that make up the Utah System of Higher Education grew by 4,869 total students and 3,606 full-time equivalent students, for statewide growth rates of 2.78 percent and 2.92 percent, respectively.

“It’s great to see so many students choosing to attend college, as it will make a significant difference in their future earnings, career opportunities, and quality of life,” Dave Buhler, Utah commissioner of higher education, said in a statement. “Our colleges and universities are working hard to ensure courses are available and student services are continued for all students.”

The new enrollment data follows an announcement last week that Brigham Young University — Utah’s largest private institution of higher education — will increase its tuition by 2.9 percent next year.

Undergraduate students at the Provo school, owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will pay an additional $80 per semester, with tuition climbing from $2,730 to $2,810 during the 2018-2019 school year.

Graduate students will pay an additional $100 per semester, while the cost for law school and Graduate School of Management students will increase by $190.

Tuition costs double for BYU students who are not members of the LDS Church, a pricing structure that spokesman Todd Hollingshead compared to the higher costs for out-of-state students at public campuses.

“Its very common for private universities or institutions to have a structure like this,” he said. “Whether its LDS or non-LDS [tuition] we really are trying to keep our costs down for students.”

Hollingshead said the 2.9 percent increase is in line with the annual bumps enacted in recent years.

“It‘s really just to cover the increase of costs in materials and supplies,” he said.

The Utah Board of Regents is expected to approve its tuition increase for the 2018-2019 school year in March, after next year’s legislative session.

A “Tier 1,” or statewide, increase of 2.5 percent was approved for the Utah System of Higher Education last year, with individual campuses enacting “Tier 2” hikes up to an additional 2.5 percent.

Melanie Heath, spokeswoman for the Utah System of Higher Education, said the regents anticipate a smaller Tier 1 tuition hike next year, depending on the level of funding allocated to higher education by the state Legislature.

“If the Legislature funds our budget request,” Heath said, “we estimate that first-tier tuition would need to increase only 1.2 percent.”