Higher ed enrollment increases 8%

By Ryan Shelton, Asst. News Editor

Nearly 12,000 more students are enrolled in Utah’s public colleges and universities this fall than in 2007, but the U8212;the largest public university in the state8212;gained less than 1 percent of the new students, according to a report by the Utah System of Higher Education.

Salt Lake Community College and Weber State University had the two largest increases in student enrollment, bringing in more than 8,000 new students. The U had just 431 more students enroll for Fall Semester this year than in 2007, underscoring a five-year trend of stagnant enrollment at the U.

Paul Brinkman, U associate vice president of budget and planning, said school administrators weren’t surprised by the U’s enrollment numbers because no efforts had been made to increase student enrollment.

“On the state level, this is the first year of real growth we’ve seen in a long time,” Brinkman said. “I’m not exactly sure why we’re seeing growth of this magnitude, but the economy has certainly played a role.”

College enrollment increases in times of economic strife because there are fewer high-paying blue-collar jobs, which encourages people to seek higher education degrees, Brinkman said.

The report came two weeks after the Utah State Legislature cut the state’s higher education funding by 4 percent, the equivalent of $34 million.

“With enrollments increasing in the face of 4 percent budget cuts, this will be a challenging year for our (college and university) presidents,” said USHE commissioner William Sederburg in a statement.

The USHE includes nine of Utah’s 10 public colleges and universities in its enrollment summary. Numbers for the Utah College of Applied Technology are calculated differently and reported separately. Brinkman said community colleges and hybrid universities8212;schools with both traditional and community college functions8212;are often the first to feel the impact of a weak economy. Weber, Utah State University and Utah Valley University8212;schools with high increases in enrollment8212;all perform community college functions by allowing students to earn an associate’s degree after two years.

A large percentage of U transfer students are from community colleges, Brinkman said. Administrators anticipate the U’s enrollment will increase as more community college students transfer to traditional universities.

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