Slower Fall Enrollment Growth the Result of Planned Affordability Changes
Thursday, Oct. 05, 2017
While Utah State University might see slower enrollment growth than other state institutions when it releases its fall 2017 figures, administrators say any enrollment slowdown will be the expected result of pro-active strategic decisions to increase student retention and to help students graduate earlier – and less expensively. These strategic decisions have resulted in better efficiencies for students and, even more important, decreased overall costs of graduation.
“We might see relatively low enrollment growth, but the overall picture for our students is that their degree will be more affordable than it was before, and more students will be able to get their bachelor’s degrees,” said Noelle Cockett, president of USU. “We made the intentional choice to change several ways we offer classes and structure fees, and that will result in efficiencies for students.
“The bottom line is that students will have more money in their pockets when they leave USU with their degrees,” she said.
Periodically USU contracts with expert consultants to analyze and interpret enrollment and financial data, which most recently led to some recommendations for changes in the way scholarships are awarded to maximize their benefits. The strategies implemented by USU were a result of those recommendations.
The potentially low enrollment growth in large part is the result of changes mostly to out-of-state scholarship procedures. As a result of those changes, out-of-state student numbers could be down.
But those strategic decisions about some scholarship initiatives were a part of a more-comprehensive look at tuition costs and efficiencies. One cost-saving change for students is that the university dropped its full-time tuition plateau from 13-18 credits to 12-18 credits for a full-time load, a seemingly small change that can lead to significant savings for many students. For example, under the previous plan, students paid the same tuition rate for 13-18 credits; the new plan drops that number to 12-18, meaning that students taking four, three-credit classes now have the incentive to take another class at no additional cost.
As a result of USU’s implementation of a lower online tuition and a lower plateau on the tuition scale, the percentage of students taking 15+ credits each semester has increased, saving students money and speeding their path to graduation. Because of these changes in student behavior, overall number of full-time equivalent students (FTEs) have increased.
“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,” said John Mortensen, assistant vice president for Enrollment Services and Retention. “We’ve made it easier financially to take a larger load, which means student university-wide can see savings.
Another significant change is the way fees are structured for online courses. Online courses had historically been more expensive per credit hour. But recent changes at USU set online fees at the same price as all other classes.
“Again, this intentional change too makes it more affordable for students to take a full load, resulting in earlier graduation,” Mortensen said. “These are direct benefits to our students. They save money.”
Even with record freshmen enrollments in fall 2015, the strategies USU implemented also led to an increased percentage in first-year student retention for the 2015 cohort who returned to school in Fall 2016.
“We might see lower enrollment growth this year than some other institutions in the state, but we believe we’ve made conscious decisions that, while potentially impacting our numbers in the short term, will lead to a growth rate we can manage over the long term,” Mortensen said. “We’re seeing institutions that have grown quickly who now are suffering from retention issues. We think our growth rate is part of our intentional effort to maintain growth yet have it match our ability to provide the excellent service students are used to receiving.
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