Despite changes necessitated by pandemic, Southern Utah universities see record-high spring enrollment

ST. GEORGE — Dixie State University and Southern Utah University reported significant increases in enrollment this spring after an unusual year for education across the globe.  

According to information provided by the universities, enrollment at SUU jumped by 16.1% between last spring and now, bringing the university’s total enrollment to 11,819 students. Dixie State saw a 4.4% increase in the same time span and now hosts 10,537 students. Both schools attribute the increase to a number of factors and boast success in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

‘Double-digit growth doesn’t happen by accident’

SUU led the state in percentage growth and overall student growth during the fall 2020 semester, according to a press release issued by the university. They also increased retention efforts by 16% over the past five years with the help of 338 full-time faculty members. Enrollment is expected to continue increasing throughout the spring semester.

“Double-digit growth doesn’t happen by accident,” SUU President Scott Wyatt said in the press release. “We attribute this to a number of factors but the most important is the unified effort on our campus to give students the most positive experience possible.”

Southern Utah University campus, Cedar City, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Southern Utah University, St. George News

Jared Tippets, SUU vice president of student affairs, added that the school is laser-focused on helping students achieve the goal of graduating. He credited faculty and staff for the record-high retention rates and for their ability to put students first both in and out of the classroom.

The university also saw online enrollment increase by 224% in the past year, or nearly 1,300 students. 

Steve Meredith, assistant vice president of enrollment management for graduate and online programs, said COVID-19 has posed some unique challenges for enrollment management leaders in universities across the country.

“In the years just prior to the outbreak, SUU’s senior administration dedicated considerable resources to building capacity and ensuring continuing quality in its online programs,” Meredith said. “This investment has paid off in a significant way during the pandemic, as online enrollment growth has become an important contributing factor in the overall growth of the university.”

‘A greater focus on applied learning’

DSU Director of Admissions Jay Sorensen told St. George News that they attribute part of their success to the hybrid class model, which increased accessibility for students and made it easier to come back to class. 

Dixie State University campus, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Dixie State University, St. George News

“I think COVID helped us in a couple of ways because you had those who maybe wanted to wait to see how things were going,” he said. “Plenty of schools in the area were virtual only, so it could be some students who maybe went to a school up north or in another state and decided to transfer back home. The accessibility of being able to have a hybrid model (at DSU) would be a contributing factor.”

The sudden increase in spring enrollment is exciting, Sorensen said, because spring isn’t normally the time of year when schools see the largest number of new students; however, he added, students who may have been apprehensive about starting school in the fall may have felt more optimistic once spring came along. 

The university has also made many changes in the past few years that have led to growth in student population and campus infrastructure. The school has added new buildings such as the Science, Engineering and Technology Building, as well as 111 new programs in the past five years.

The university is also transitioning into a polytechnic model, meaning the programs are becoming more hands-on, and it is one of the few polytechnic universities in the country to accept nearly any student who applies. This contributes to a new reputation for the university and an energy that people want to be a part of, Sorensen said. 

“It’s a greater focus on applied learning. Sitting in a classroom is one element, but a real part of it is real-world application,” he said. “This polytechnic focus is making it so students do get more experience that employers are actually looking for.”

Sorensen cited the university’s new science and technology building on campus as an example, saying there are only a handful of classrooms.

“They’re predominantly all labs,” he said, “and the reason they’re all labs is because it’s falling in line with that polytechnic model. We want students in there tangibly doing things as a class.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!