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Page 15 of 25

  Enrollment Redirection

In the late 1980s, the Board of Regents adopted a Master Plan that had as one of its key priorities the redistribution of students within the higher education system. The 1987 Master Plan identified a "top heavy" problem in the system, where the bulk of the students were enrolled in the more expensive research institutions (the University of Utah and Utah State University) with a much lower concentration of students in the two-year colleges. At the time, the challenge for the state was how to continue to provide access and meet projected enrollment growth during a time of recession. Given that community colleges have a much lower cost per student to the state than the four-year institutions, enrollment redirection was an attempt to bring greater efficiency into the system.

The Master Plan sought to "direct a high percentage of new lower division enrollment growth to the community colleges."35 The idea was that through working with high school counselors, parents, and students, better information would be provided to students about the range of higher education opportunities available and about where the best possible fit for each student might be. The 1987 Master Plan established enrollment targets through 1995, with the "goal of enrolling at least one third of Utah public higher education students in community colleges by the year 2000."36

Whether a specific result of this policy or not, enrollment growth at some of the two-year institutions has been swift. In the late 1980s Utah Technical College officially changed its name to Salt Lake Community College and, according to its president, the name change coupled with the ability to offer transfer degrees had a significant impact on enrollment. Between fall of 1989 and fall of 1990, for example, headcount enrollment at Salt Lake Community College increased by 16%.37 In Utah County, enrollments at Utah Valley State College (UVSC) have surged as well, due to many factors: general population growth in the area, policy changes at BYU to take fewer in-state residents, and a USHE change in 1993 that enabled UVSC to begin offering four-year degrees (see below). Table two provides a snapshot of how enrollment has changed at each of the community colleges in the past 15 years.

Overall, between 1988-89 and 2003-04, head-count enrollments in the two-year institutions increased by more than 34,000 students, an increase of 156%. Overall head-count enrollment during this time increased by 64,000 students, an 85% increase.38 As the table above shows, all but one community college (the College of Eastern Utah) saw their enrollments more than double during this time period. The higher percentage growth in the two-year institutions suggests that the policy did have an impact and that there are more students entering the lower cost institutions.

Whether the goal of the 1987 Master Plan (to enroll one-third of students in a community college) was ultimately met depends upon how one counts Utah Valley State College enrollments. UVSC was still a two-year institution in 1987, but in 1993 gained the authority to offer baccalaureate degrees as well (see discussion below). USHE figures show that in fall 2000, approximately 37% of students are enrolled in two-year colleges if UVSC enrollments are included (backing out the 1,200 upper division students). If UVSC is not included as a two-year college, then only 24% of students are enrolled in two-year institutions.)39

Presumably, this redirection effort, if successful, would alter the balance of lower/upper division students at the state's two public research institutions, the University of Utah and Utah State University. As the two highest cost institutions, these would be the places where students would in theory be redirected from for the first two years. Table three shows the changes in the numbers and percentage of upper- and lower-division students in these institutions over the past 10 years.

As the data in the table indicate, the percentage of lower division students at each of the institutions has gone down slightly (and, in fact, at the University of Utah the number of lower division students has decreased as well.) While one legislator sees this as evidence that the policy was a success, others within the system argue that the system is still far too "top heavy" and that the redirection policy has had at best a minimal impact on the distribution of students throughout the system.

A legislator we spoke with thinks that this redirection of students has been successful in terms of numbers (more students have gone to the two-year institutions) but not in terms of outcomes. "Quality (at these institutions) is not what it should be." A campus administrator called the policy a failure because it really sought to direct students to institutions in their geographic service areas but that "those institutions did not necessarily best serve student needs." Two administrators from campuses that previously only offered two-year degrees argued that it is precisely because of student and community needs-particularly in rural and isolated regions-that their institutions began offering four-year degrees.

Whether because of the enrollment redirection policy or in spite of it, the two-year institutions have seen significant growth in Utah over the last decade, and this growth does not appear to have affected the capacity of the system to offer baccalaureate degrees. In 1991-92 public institutions in the state awarded 6,390 baccalaureate degrees; by 2001-02, that number was 10,277, an increase of 60%.41 Given that this figure is higher than the FTE growth over that same period (which was 42%), it appears that the state has been able to increase the numbers of students receiving degrees despite the redistribution of those students between two- and four-year institutions when they enter the system.

35 Utah State Board of Regents, The Challenge of Change: Master Planning for Utah Higher Education, Executive Summary, January 1987, p. 3.

36 Utah State Board of Regents, The Challenge of Change: Master Planning for Utah Higher Education, Executive Summary, January 1987 (Salt Lake City), p. 3.

37 Katherine Kapos, "New SLCC President Calls Education of Students His Guiding Principle," Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 24, 1991, p B2.

38 For FTE numbers see Utah State System of Higher Education, USHE 2003 Long-Term Enrollment Projection Model. The enrollment numbers for the two-year institutions include enrollments at Utah Valley and Dixie College, which were two-year institutions at the time of the enrollment management policy, even though they each now offer four-year degrees and are technically considered four-year institutions.

39 Utah System of Higher Education, Data Book 2003-2004, Tab C, "Enrollments," Table 1: Enrollment History, p. 5.

40 Data on Upper and Lower Division Enrollments is from Utah System of Higher Education, "Five Year History - Annualized FTEs by Level of Instruction Academic Years 1998-2003" and "USHE FTE Enrollment by Level 1991-1997". Tables provided by USHE staff, February 25, 2004.

41 Utah System of Higher Education, Data Book 2002-2003 and 2003-2004, Tab B, "Degrees and Award," Tables 1 and 2, Five Year History of Degrees and Awards.


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