The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

Highest enrollment jump in over decade


Last week, enrollment numbers for the University of Northern Iowa were released, and after years of pandemic and post-pandemic decreases, the numbers are finally on the rise. Reporting from the university shows total fall 2023 enrollment up at 9,021 with sizable increases in freshman and transfer student populations. These numbers show the biggest increase in enrollment in nearly ten years. Last week, the Northern Iowan sat down with Director of University Relations, Pete Moris, to discuss these promising new numbers, what they mean, and other topics related to the upcoming school year. More information about enrollment and students can be found online at UNI’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Planning or online at InsideUNI. 

With enrollment having increased, what are the administrative team’s feelings about the new numbers?

“Number one, we are extremely thankful for students and their families for choosing UNI. We are grateful for those who put their faith in us that we are the college home for their students. Number two, it’s not the end, it’s just the next step on the journey. We’ve taken a lot of thought and planning to adjust our academic offerings. We continue to be strong in those traditional areas that we are known for whether it’s music, education, or business, but with nursing coming on board next fall, we’ve got our new College of Health and Human Sciences. We’ve also got some new engineering degrees, so we have really listened to the needs of Iowa students and employers who are telling us about areas of need and demand.”

For the last few years enrollment has been on the decline, especially coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. How did UNI turn that around?

“There’s a great appetite for students to get back on campus and experience college life. It’s hard to quantify the sense of community we have at UNI. It’s hard to quantify in numbers. The one number we do know is that we had a 7.5% increase in the number of students who signed contracts to live on campus.”

“What we’re seeing and hearing is that students really have an appetite to get engaged with student groups and organizations. Whether it’s through an on-campus group or their circle of friends, they really want to experience things together. You’ve got that demand but we’ve also got a student life department that’s really committed to providing exemplary services. That could mean things like our new telehealth app where students can access mental or physical health professionals 24/7, having aerobics classes in the WRC, having more students at events on campus, or other support areas like academic advising or helping underrepresented communities. You’ve got a group and a place you can call your own … We can offer a lot more personalized attention at UNI than maybe a bigger institution.” 

“The other thing I would add is compared to this time a year ago, applications are up 30%, so that says that we’re doing something right. We’ve got students who are applying to a lot of places, but we need to encourage those folks to come and take a visit and hopefully convince them this is the right spot for them.” 

How is the university going to capitalize on this with being our biggest increase in over ten years?

“We’ve got a number of projects and initiatives underway to try and encourage more students to come to UNI. We’re investing in some of the iconic spaces here on campus, but even more importantly, we’re investing in scholarships to make a UNI education affordable and accessible to particular students here in the state of Iowa. We are proud to have students representing all 99 counties of the state. The other piece where we have seen significant growth are our community college transfers through our UNI at Community College program. If you are a student in Sioux City, Des Moines, or Peosta and you can get to a community college, you have access to a four year UNI degree. It’s exciting to see so many students taking advantage of that program too. It’s about continuing to be responsive and pivoting to the needs that we are hearing about.”

What other marketing strategies has the university utilized to keep the momentum going with things like ads, billboards, videos, interactions at the state fair, etc?

“I always say the best recruiting tool we have are successful students. A focus has been setting up all of our students for success and that looks different for every student. The more successful, engaged students we have the better the odds that they are going to go back to their hometown, group of friends, or family and talk about the positive impact UNI has made on them.”

Flipping to the state side of things, how do you see these numbers helping UNI at the statehouse in the spring talking with legislators about reinvesting in the public universities in Iowa? 

“One of the things that we have continued to stress to our legislators in the state is that UNI is a different institution than Iowa and Iowa State and we should really be priced differently than those two. Those are two research institutions that have some outstanding programs, but they also draw a large number of folks from out of state, which is fine. 

The majority of our students are from the state of Iowa and our incoming class has 1,399 from their overall numbers who fall into that category. We want to make sure that a UNI education continues to be accessible and affordable for all students, but particularly for those from the state of Iowa. 

There’s two ways to do that. Number one is to make sure our tuition reflects the tuition that students in other states pay at our peer institutions, which is significantly less than the state research institutions. 

Number two is to make sure that the trend of declining state investment in the regent institutions decreases. That’s why a large portion of the Our Tomorrow Campaign is geared towards student scholarships.”

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  • G

    Glenn GraySep 14, 2023 at 9:34 am

    Enrollment Change
    Fall 2023 9,021 72 0.8%
    Fall 2022 8,949 -282 -3.1%
    Fall 2021 9,231 -291 -3.1%
    Fall 2020 9,522 -975 -9.3%
    Fall 2019 10,497 -715 -6.4%
    Fall 2018 11,212 -695 -5.8%
    Total -2,958 -24.8%