Southern Utah colleges share in higher education’s statewide growth

ST. GEORGE — Southern Utah colleges are experiencing significant increases in student population.

Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 4, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

According to the Utah System of Higher Education, Utah public colleges and universities have experienced an almost 3% increase in enrollment rates with an additional 5,402 students.

This significant growth is impacting local schools like Southern Utah University and Dixie State University the most. For the first time in SUU’s history, the university is serving over 11,000 students during its fall semester.

According to a press release from SUU, the university saw a 10.1% increase from the fall 2018 semester to now, illustrated in the USHE’s annual third week enrollment report. With 727 students from over 60 countries, SUU also experienced a 27% enrollment increase for international students.

“Our continued growth can be attributed to a number of factors but what we always hear from students is that SUU feels like home,” Brandon Wright, assistant vice president for enrollment management, said in the press release.

Students wait to speak with admissions, financial aid and registration experts at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah, Aug. 27, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

SUU’s student population shot from just over 10,000 students in 2018 to 11,224 students participating in the university’s on-campus, online, certificate and licensure programs. Since 2015, the university has celebrated rapidly growing student enrollment, welcoming over 2,300 students over an almost five-year span.

Dixie State is not far behind with 11,193 students, seeing more than a 12% increase from last year, according to a press release from DSU. The school has seen an over 31% increase in student population since 2015. Of this increase, nonresident student numbers have grown by 8%, with nonresident students making up 17% of the student population.

DSU attributed its continued growth to the dedication of the university’s Division of Student Affairs. The department focuses its efforts on managing enrollment and improving student engagement, inclusiveness and success. The Division of Student Affairs is also involved with conducting assessments and developing annual reports.

Peter Gitau, vice president of student affairs, told St. George News his department is on the front lines of student enrollment.

Dixie State University President Richard “Biff” Williams presents at the annual State of the University Address, St. George, Utah, Sept. 18, 2019 | File photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

“We are going out, we are cultivating interest, we are recruiting, we are visiting high schools and scheduling events to make young people and their families interested in Dixie State University,” he said.

The number of recruiters scattered not just around Utah but around the nation, Gitau said, is a large part of the reason Dixie State is experiencing record highs in student enrollment.

He said his department has a large amount of its focus on growth, which includes retention rates.

Gitau said growth is a combination of creating a strong class and maintaining that group throughout their history at the university.

“For the first time in quite a long time, we have seen a positive movement toward retention,” he said. “We don’t want to just recruit students, we also want to keep them here.”

Both institutions are using this growth in population to explore new avenues, including adding more degree programs. Dixie State added 16 new degree programs over the last year, bringing the university’s total offered programs to 200. SUU offers 163 online and on-campus degree programs and is adding a three-year bachelor’s degree program that begins in January.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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