Enrollment expects boost for upcoming academic year


Enrollment at Iowa State for the upcoming fall semester is expected to still decline compared to previous years, but there will be a high amount of new freshman and transfer students, according to enrollment projections. 

Kelly Snawerdt

It comes as no surprise that enrollment for the last academic year and this summer at Iowa State has not reached the same numbers it has in previous years with COVID-19 on everyone’s plate. 

Total enrollment for students in the fall 2020 semester was 31,825, which is a decrease compared to the previous fall semester of 2019, which sat at 33,391, according to the enrollment statistics found on the Iowa State Office of the Registrar website. The spring semester of 2021 saw a difference of 1,405 students less compared to the previous spring, and this summer has seen a difference of 771 less enrolled than for last summer.

But according to Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management Laura Doering, the decline in overall enrollment, including the coming year, is not completely attributed to the pandemic. 

“I am going to attribute [the expected decline in enrollment], however, a little bit to the pandemic but more to the fewer continuing undergraduate students,” Doering said. “In recent past years, we’ve had larger graduating classes, and the larger graduating classes have been replenished by smaller incoming classes, which results in fewer undergraduate students overall.” 

Doering acknowledged that some of the decline seen last year was certainly due to the pandemic and the challenges associated with that, but she wanted to stress that the overall decline did precede the global pandemic. 

According to Doering, Iowa State is expecting a larger freshman class for the upcoming fall semester due to some clear reasons such as vaccinations being more readily available, the mask mandate on campus being lifted and many classes returning to on-site instruction, but the expected increase is merely a projection. 

As for efforts the university has tried to make to bring enrollment back up, Doering said Iowa State is trying to raise the number of international and nonresident students. 

“We continue to see good success in enrolling resident students; now that said, we know the high school population in Iowa is fairly flat, and so when it comes to our pool of eligible students, we are looking certainly to recruit international and U.S. domestic nonresident students, and so we have a number of efforts targeted to recruit residents, nonresidents and international,” Doering said. 

It has been difficult for potential Cyclones to visit campus due to the pandemic, and Doering said that was a challenge that had to be overcome for this summer in order to get those high school students to check out the physical campus and feel the college atmosphere rather than sitting in a virtual presentation about the university. 

Enrollment numbers have a large impact on the finances and budget at Iowa State as well, and according to Associate Vice President for Institutional Financial Strategy Bonnie Whalen, with all budget decisions, the focus is always on providing an affordable, high-quality education for students. 

“University leaders consider a variety of factors, including enrollment projections, when developing the annual operating budget,” Whalen said. “Enrollment Services provides regular updates throughout the budget planning process, which generally takes eight to 10 months. This allows university, college and unit leaders to plan accordingly and make adjustments as needed. For example, a college may add or remove a course section based on enrollment.” 

According to Whalen, for the current fiscal year that began July 1, tuition makes up approximately 63 percent of the general fund budget. But because Iowa State does not know the final enrollment numbers for the upcoming fall semester until the 10th day of classes, the university develops contingency plans as part of the budget so they can respond accordingly to any fluctuations in enrollment. 

One of the significant indicators of enrollment is participation in summer orientation, and this summer, there has been an in-person option called “OnCyte orientation” throughout the month of July that was a pretty big hit for incoming students. 

“I will tell you that our participation in orientation this year has really been excellent,” Doering said. “The number of students attending orientation was well ahead of the attendance seen last year, so really, we are ahead in both numbers and the percentage of students already compared to last year when it was all virtual, and also, we’re ahead for both our new freshmen students and our new transfer students.” 

Only time will tell the total amount of students enrolled at Iowa State this academic year, but according to some of the indicating factors for enrollment, it is expected that things will be kicking up.