Despite pandemic, Southern Utah colleges see enrollment increase; state system sees net decrease

ST. GEORGE — While data from the Utah System of Higher Education shows a slight net decrease in enrollment at Utah’s public colleges and universities, Southern Utah colleges have seen an increase, with Southern Utah University showing the largest year-to-year enrollment increase in the state.

For the past five years, SUU has led the growth in the state university system, and projections show that trend continuing for the next decade. | Illustration courtesy of Southern Utah University, St. George News

According to a press release issued by Southern Utah University, even with the impact of COVID-19, SUU grew 12.1% from the same time last year. SUU also led the state in overall student growth, adding 1,358 students since last fall. SUU has 12,582 students, the largest number in the university’s history.

Scott Wyatt, president of SUU, said in a press release from the university that he’s amazed that despite being in the middle of the COVID pandemic, the university is seeing double-digit growth.

“We believe by the time the fall semester is complete, our actual growth will be closer to 15%,” Wyatt said. “Not only are we leading growth in Utah, but we’re probably leading growth among public universities throughout the entire nation. This is exciting news for SUU.”

Brandon Wright, SUU’s assistant vice president for enrollment management, said they’ve always been aggressive in the way they recruit new students, but this year they knew it would be an even greater challenge due to the pandemic.

“Our success this year is a total team effort from our outstanding faculty, staff and students. It really comes down to the fact that SUU is an incredible student-centered university and our growth is a testament to that,” Wright said in the press release.

Part of the growth effort can also be attributed to having more than 60% of the fall semester’s classes face-to-face, while also giving students who didn’t feel comfortable attending class an online option. Offering these socially-distanced, mask-wearing in-person classes brought freshman Nicole Zaccaria to SUU from her hometown of Fredonia, Arizona.

Southern Utah University ranks the highest in year-to-year enrollment growth, Cedar City, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Southern Utah University, St. George News

“When I got an email from SUU saying that there would be face-to-face classes I leaped with joy,” Zaccaria said. “My future school and education were going to be achieved. After learning and reading what the requirements were for classes, I felt that SUU was the safest university, and I am so happy I made the choice to come to Southern Utah University.”

Zaccaria is part of a freshman class that is the most qualified in school history. The average grade point average for new freshmen is 3.6 with an average ACT score of 23.9.

Dixie State University has also seen double-digit growth, welcoming 3,210 new students to campus this fall, a 10.8% increase in first-time freshman and transfer students over last year.

According to a press release issued by Dixie State, the university’s fall 2020 student population, comprising 12,043 individuals, increased by 7.6% overall. Demonstrating the longevity and sustainability of the university’s growth, Dixie State’s third-week fall enrollment has increased by more than 40% in the last five years.

Richard Williams, Dixie State University president, speaks to the media following the State of the University Address, St. George, Utah, Sept. 23, 2020 | File photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

“We are excited to welcome a significant number of new students to campus, contributing to the largest student body in Dixie State’s history and being included among the growing public universities in Utah,” Dixie State University President Richard “Biff” Williams said  in the press release. “To help prepare these students for success, DSU continues to expand our academic programs and facilities to give every Trailblazer a high-quality, affordable education.”

Dixie State continues to expand its nationally-ranked programs at the lowest university tuition cost in Utah, the press release stated. Included in DSU’s enrollment numbers is an increase in diversity, which grew by 7.2% overall.

“I love being part of the momentum and growth happening at Dixie State,” Interim Vice President of Student Affairs Del Beatty said. “Even more rewarding is having a front row seat to the positive interactions our students have every day with dedicated faculty, staff and other students. Even during these crazy COVID times, they are staying engaged and connected.”

The Utah System of Higher Education reported that systemwide, the total 2020 fall semester headcount is 189,021. Compared to 2019, the total fall headcount slightly decreased by two-tenths of a percentage point overall.

“I am optimistic that college enrollments across the System have held steady despite the coronavirus pandemic,” said Dave R. Woolstenhulme, commissioner of Higher Education. “These future graduates will have a positive ripple effect across the state and country as we recover from the impacts of COVID-19.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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