U nearly meets its enrollment freeze goal

The numbers are in, and the U is a little more crowded than it was last year.

The latest enrollment report issued by the Utah System of Higher Education shows a 1.6 percent increase in the number of students earning an education here, but that small increase doesn’t fare well for all students.

According to the report, nearly 400 more students at the U are underfunded this year than they were last year.

Though the numbers may show a change in the core population of students at the U, Paul Brinkman, associate vice president of budget and planning, said enrollment figures are right on track.

“We certainly feel we’ve been successful in meeting the enrollment freeze. We came pretty close to hitting the number,” he said.

That number was 28,369-or the number of students who received an education from the U last year.

Last spring, U President Bernie Machen issued a challenge to administrators to keep this year’s enrollment numbers nearly identical to last year’s.

The latest report from the Utah System of Higher Education shows a difference of 715 students, with a head count of 27,654.

Although that number is used by state lawmakers to determine the U’s annual budget, Brinkman said the enrollment numbers are more indicative of other factors.

“If enrollment goes up, the U is entitled to ask the state for more money, but the funded target isn’t moving up as fast as enrollment is,” he said.

As a result, administrators have been forced to increase tuition, which rose 9.6 percent last year at the U.

Even with that spike, the U’s tuition raise stayed below the national average, which currently sits at 14.6 percent.

“We raise tuition to lower the number of underfunded students here. Part of the reason tuition has gone up was because the state hasn’t been able to pay their piece,” he said.

Brinkman described the tuition raise as a “substitution” for the money not coming in from the state.

Without those funds, “There’s only so much you can do…Ultimately, something will deteriorate. You can’t get something for nothing,” he said.

With the state more than $15 million behind in enrollment growth funds, there’s not much U officials can do to alleviate the enrollment freeze right now, Brinkman said-though that could change in the future, depending on two variables.

First, Brinkman said, is the challenge of installing a new president at the U after Machen leaves on Jan. 5 to take over at the University of Florida.

“That’s really a wild card…Any enrollment decisions will be up to the new president, so we need to wait and see what happens,” Brinkman said.

Second, a fluctuating economy may result in an upturn in state funds.

“It’s hard to say what’s going to happen in the future. This enrollment freeze isn’t set in stone,” he said.

Though the U’s numbers shot up by 1.6 percent, other public institutions throughout the state saw enrollment numbers increase as well.

Dixie State College and Weber State University both saw their enrollment figures raised by 2.2 percent, while Salt Lake Community College’s figure rose by 2.4 percent.

The College of Eastern Utah saw the steepest decline in enrollment, 6.4 percent.

All the peaks and valleys of enrollment numbers throughout the state let U officials know their enrollment freeze was effective, Brinkman said.

“We feel pretty successful in implementing a freeze,” he said.

He also expressed optimism at keeping state underfunded students at the U.

“The students are here, and that means a lot,” he said.

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