Registrar speaks on enrollment numbers

Mark Simpson was named registrar this year.

Courtesy of Iowa State University

Mark Simpson was named registrar this year.

Tyrus Pavicich

The enrollment numbers for this semester dropped more than 1,000 students, a prospect which some could see as troubling, but Mark Simpson, Iowa State registrar, said those numbers could be a good thing.

Much of this drop is due to changes on how student enrollment is counted statewide, Simpson said. This means postdoctoral and Intensive English Orientation Program (IEOP) students are no longer counted toward the total student population.

“A postdoc is somebody who’s not necessarily taking classes, but they’re working, they’re teaching. IEOP students aren’t fully enrolled in the university: They come here to work on English proficiency, that’s their whole focus,” Simpson said. “To include them in our enrollment numbers just didn’t seem to make sense.”

Outside of removing certain groups from the total enrollment figures, Simpson said there are other factors that could have contributed to a decline in student population.

“We’re graduating more students than we ever have,” Simpson said. “We have a record graduation rate. Last year, we awarded 8356 degrees. And the more you have those records, naturally you’re going to have less students left, right? And that’s the dream — it’s about helping students get their education to find credentials and move forwards.”

These numbers reflect a student population just larger than 2014’s. Although it’s easy to look at a drop in student population and assume it’s purely negative, Simpson said campus administration views it in a different light.

“We’ve had quite a few conversations about what our enrollment goals are, that range. As we think about that significant growth that Iowa State experienced, it also brought some pain points,” Simpson said. “Housing availability, classroom seat availability, all those kind of things — and so we want the institution to be able to scale to whatever the enrollment is.”

Simpson said increasing the student population isn’t a top priority for campus officials. Instead, he said it’s more important to focus on the quality of life and education across the student populous rather than the size of the population itself. Simpson said the fact graduation rates are at record levels serve as a litmus for that.

“We want to be very intentional about it,” Simpson said. “I can’t speak for the president or anybody else, but we’re pleased with the enrollment that we have. We have, academically, some of the highest achieving enrolling class that we’ve ever had. In fact, I think it’s the highest ever, is what the report came out with. Diversity is growing. A lot of those factors we care deeply about — graduation rates, diversity, academic preparation — all those indicators are going up, and I think that’s fantastic.”

Despite a decrease in the number of international students at Iowa State, almost a quarter of the student population is comprised of multicultural and international students thanks to a larger-than-ever number of multicultural students. Simpson emphasized this fact, stating diversity is one of the most critical aspects of higher education.

“It’s about bringing people with diverse backgrounds, ideas, wishes, dreams, and having us work together to share those ideas and dreams and backgrounds,” Simpson said. “That we can learn from each other, that we can grow, that we can see the world from different perspectives — I think we’re better human beings because of it. The fact that Iowa State embraces it so strongly — am I surprised? No. Thrilled? Absolutely. I love to see what we have — I think it’s fantastic.”

Because Simpson has only been the registrar since May 21, he said he is unable to offer much depth on the motivation behind students coming to and staying at Iowa State, but instead offered his own reasons for coming to the university, which he says probably align with many incoming students.

“Our academics are unparalleled,” Simpson said. “They are amazing. Our faculty, the credentials, the opportunities for students are absolutely fantastic. People are nice to each other here. So I totally get why students would choose to stay, why students from a bunch of other states choose to come here.”