CEDAR CITY — After a year of adjusted course schedules and widespread virtual learning, Southern Utah colleges and universities are reporting that more students than ever returned to campus for the 2021 fall semester.
According to data shared by the Utah System of Higher Education, Southwest Technical College led all public higher-education institutions in the state with a total enrollment increase of 20.65%. Also in Iron County, Southern Utah University grew at a faster rate than every other public degree-granting institution in the state, reporting an 8.18% increase. In Washington County, Dixie Technical College also saw a double-digit increase in enrollment.
Across the state, enrollment at public colleges and universities rose 2.24% compared to 2020. The only higher-education institutions that saw a decline in enrollment were Utah State University (-0.96%), Salt Lake Community College (-0.25%) and Davis Technical College (-5.16%).
Southwest Tech’s director of marketing Cordelle Morris told Cedar City News he recently attended a conference with several other institutions of higher education from around the country and that the reports sounded “pretty grim as far as enrollment numbers.”
“It was common to hear people say they were down 25%,” he said. “Looking at the entire state of Utah, we’re up and we’re growing, and I think that just speaks to our stability within the state and the communities that we live in. We’re very fortunate, and the future looks bright for education in Utah.”
Morris said in regard to Southwest Tech specifically, some of the college’s tremendous growth may be related to the labor reckoning triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, but a host of other factors also helped spur growth.
“People are taking a second look at education, and technical education in general is very appealing,” Morris said. “Also, we’ve had a lot of fantastic scholarship opportunities, and we feel fortunate that, since we’re in a small community, we’ve been able to keep our doors open from a COVID standpoint.”
The partnership between SUU and Southwest Tech has strengthened in recent years, Morris said. Many university students take courses through the technical college, and students enrolled at Southwest Tech are dual-enrolled and able to attend SUU events and programs.
Southwest Tech welcomed 1,297 total students for fall 2021, while SUU’s headcount was 13,611 students.
In a press release celebrating SUU’s growth, university officials discussed the challenges faced by students, including a housing shortage and the ongoing pandemic, and touted the progress made toward the university’s academic goals.
The school has greatly expanded its online degree programs to serve more students and provide education at a reduced cost. In 2020, SUU launched the Bachelor of General Studies online degree, which costs $9,000 from start to finish.
Online students now account for almost 6% of the total student body, the press release stated, crediting most of the university’s growth to increased enrollment in online degree programs.
SUU is not alone in adding new programs and expanding existing offerings. Southwest Tech has added more sections to their popular courses, including EMT and automotive training, and has plans to launch a new pharmacy technician program in January 2022.
Higher-education institutions in Utah’s southwest corner also saw significant growth according to the latest data. Similar to its Iron County neighbor, Dixie Technical College saw an enrollment increase of 14.49% for a total headcount of 1,138 students.
Dixie State University reported 1.85% growth, enrolling 12,266 students – its largest ever student population.
“Dixie State has grown and evolved over the past several years, and we’ve continued to add new academic programs, both at the undergraduate level and in graduate programs and certificate options,” said Darlene Dilley, associate provost for enrollment management. “I think that is something that’s definitely helped, along with our new facilities.”
DSU highlighted the demographic shifts taking place at the university in a press release accompanying the enrollment statistics.
The fall 2021 student body includes 3,283 new students. Of these numbers, women represent a slightly high portion, with 58% of the student population composed of females. Dilley said the female-to-male disparity reflects a nationwide trend in higher education.
Additionally, the international student population is on the rise, although the lion’s share is still Utah residents.
About 70% of the incoming class was from Utah, which is a higher percentage than the school average, Dilley said.
“We’re committed to our Utah students, but we also had a record class of international students this year,” she said. “Coming off of COVID, that’s huge, because a lot of schools are seeing a decline in their international student enrollment.”
Campus safety rating, expanded course offerings, career opportunities and affordable cost all contribute to an attractive school for international students, Dilley said. Whether it’s a new strategic plan or new buildings on campus, Dixie State’s continuing growth is evident in its student population.
Ed. note: The percentage of incoming students from Utah at DSU was originally reported as 77%, which is actually the percentage of overall enrollment. A clarification from the university stated that it was 70% of incoming students from Utah this year, with 30% being from out of state.
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