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College rolls rising in Utah

Figures show schools fill niche in communities

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Weber State University and Dixie and Utah Valley state colleges expect to see a few extra students when classes resume over the next week.

WSU foresees a 3 percent total enrollment increase, whereas Dixie and UVSC could be looking at jumps near 10 percent, the institutions reported Monday.

The preliminary numbers indicate the institutions have carved a niche in their communities, such as offering four-year programs close to home and capitalizing on information technologies such as Internet courses and computer classes, said Michael Petersen, associate commissioner for academic affairs for the Utah System of Higher Education.

"This does emphasize the need for the institutions in higher education to be continually assessing the needs in their communities, and being responsive to those needs," he said. "And I think that the growth of UVSC is probably the clearest example of how important that is."

Students typically are counted after the third week of classes. Right now, enrollments are in flux with last-minute registration.

But institutions look in advance at factors including numbers of high school graduates that might affect their campuses, and with good reason: Full-time enrollment drives state funding.

Utah Board of Regents numbers show head counts at Utah's nine public colleges and universities will continue to grow for the next 20 years, with totals rising from 122,400 students to 138,140 in the next five years.

Dixie, which enrolled about 6,200 students last fall, expects 6,600 to 7,000 students in this debut year as Dixie State College, spokesman Mark Petersen said.

As of Monday, 160 students were enrolled in the college's premiere four-year offerings in business administration, computer information and technology.

"Enrollment is booming," Mark Petersen said as students converged on the campus for orientation activities. "We've been on a steady increase for quite a few years now. Since we're so isolated (in southern Utah), I think that's a remarkable growth pattern."

Ditto for UVSC in Orem. The school's booming enrollment reached 20,000 students last year. If the student body grows to 21,500, the school could overtake Utah State University or Salt Lake Community College to become the state's second-largest institution in enrollment terms.

Three days before school starts at UVSC, registrars count 15,533 students taking at least one class, an increase of 10.5 percent over figures last year at this time. The school has turned students away for three consecutive years because of a lack of space.

WSU also is looking at more students, perhaps due to small classes and population growth in Weber and Davis counties, from which the school draws.

"The president is expecting right around a 3 percent increase, but that is very preliminary," said Jason Wanlass, associate director of media relations. "We've had several years of enrollment growth, and this may put us at our highest enrollment ever."

The College of Eastern Utah has about 2,800 students on its campuses as of Tuesday — about the same as last year — and expects the numbers to rise with programs starting later in the year, spokeswoman Karen Bliss said.

Other institutions expect enrollment plateaus.

"We'll be pleased with our enrollment if we come out where we were last year. And I think that's where we'll end up," said Kay Harward, associate vice president for student affairs at the University of Utah, where students converged Monday to complete last-minute registration, bookstore purchases, and move-ins. The U., the state's flagship institution, enrolled 25,800 students last fall.

Harward's sentiment is shared by the 6,000-student Southern Utah University, which so far is enrolling more upperclassmen and fewer freshmen than last year, dean of students Neal Cox said.

Salt Lake Community College, the state's second largest institution with 21,300 students last year, also expects flat enrollment. Utah State University might go from 20,865 to 21,000 students, and Snow College, which enrolled 4,000 students last year, foresees little growth above that number this year.

Contributing: Jeffrey P. Haney

E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com