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With two glaring exceptions, Utah System of Higher Education officials have been pleasantly surprised by the fall enrollment figures from the state's nine colleges and universities.

A total of 116,047 students signed up for classes this year, compared to 112,666 last year.The University of Utah, the state's flagship institution, recorded the most serious decline in enrollment this year, almost 3 percent. That could translate into a significant budget reduction next year.

Weber State University, which has been struggling with enrollment declines over the past four years, tallied another drop this year, though not as precipitous as in the past.

However, enrollment system-wide grew by 3 percent, almost 4,000 students. "We see that as very encouraging," said Dale Hatch, associate commissioner for finance.

Also, he said college enrollment in Utah is expected to continue to grow through the rest of the decade.

One of the biggest surprises in this year's enrollment numbers was the robust growth at Utah State University, which counted almost 1,000 more students than last year.

Utah's fastest growing schools were in the south. Southern Utah University showed almost 10 percent growth in total headcount, while neighboring Dixie College showed an increase of more than 8 percent.

Dixie this year also topped 5,000 in enrollment for the first time in its history. The college celebrated the milestone by recognizing its 5,000th student, Carolee Stout Poulson, a associate degree candidate from Hurricane.

But Dixie didn't stop there. After Poulson, another 318 students enrolled at the St. George school, giving the college a total fall headcount of 5,318. Its full-time equivalent enrollment also increased by more than six percent over last year.

Dixie President Robert C. Huddleston said the growth this year comes on top of record-breaking enrollment last year. And it's also the third straight year that Dixie has led the Utah System of Higher Education in enrollment growth.

Max Rose, Dixie's executive vice president of academics, attributed the increasing enrollment to the school's focus on identifying and meeting student needs. The classes students want are made available when they want them, he said.

Salt Lake Community College also reported robust growth this year, continuing a 10-year upward spiral that has made it the second-largest institution of higher education in the state. This fall, 22,394 students are enrolled at SLCC two main campuses and education centers.

Debbie Summers, who keeps tabs on the college's enrollment, said the 7.5-percent increase this year represents somewhat slower growth than in the past. However, she said projections indicate the college has not "leveled off" yet and may not for years to come.

"We see the growth continuing, though not as fast as in the past," she said.

WSU found itself looking at another drop in enrollment this year, though comparatively smaller than in past year. While the fall head-count was slightly below last year's, the school's more important full-time equivalent count (which affects its budget) declined by 3 percent.

WSU President Paul H. Thompson said the state's booming economy continues to lure students away from the Ogden school's classrooms. Thompson, who has refused to take his full pay raise until the enrollment trend is reversed, said WSU is taking a number of pro-active steps.



Utah college enrollment


FALL 1995 1996 CHANGE 1995 1996 CHANGE

University of Utah 27,137 26,359 -2.87% 21,540 20,990 -2.55%

Utah State University 19,861 20,808 4.77% 15,159 15,738 3.82%

Weber State University 14,619 14,440 -1.22% 10,826 10,501 -3.00%

Southern Utah University 5,159 5,640 9.32% 4,501 4,853 7.82%

Snow College 3,027 3,162 4.46% 2,668 2,748 3.00%

Dixie College 4,921 5,318 8.07% 3,120 3,298 5.71%

College of Eastern Utah 3,067 3,170 3.36% 2,029 2,126 4.78%

Utah Valley State College 14,041 14,756 5.09% 9,125 9,784 7.22%

Salt Lake Community College 20,834 22,394 7.49% 12,745 13,449 5.52%

FTE= Full-time equivalent: student per full load of credit hours