SALT LAKE CITY — Enrollment at Utah’s public colleges and universities dipped slightly compared to one year ago, but mostly held steady in the face of a 2.5% national decline, according to some estimates.

The total fall headcount at Utah’s six universities and two colleges was 189,021, down two-tenths of a percentage point from fall 2019, when the enrollment was 189,035.

Utah’s Commissioner of Higher Education Dave Woolstenhulme said in a statement that he is “optimistic that college enrollments across the system have held steady despite the coronavirus pandemic.”

Future graduates of Utah’s public colleges and universities “will have a positive ripple effect across the state and country as we recover from the impacts of COVID-19,” he said.

Utah System of Higher Education

Southern Utah University experienced a 12.1% increase in year-over-year enrollment, followed by Snow College and Dixie State University, which had 7.7% and 7.6% increases, respectively.

SUU President Scott Wyatt said the increase could be as high as 15% by the end of fall term.

“What’s amazing is that this fall, in the middle of the COVID pandemic, Southern Utah University is seeing double-digit growth,” said Wyatt.

“Not only are we leading growth in Utah, but we’re probably leading growth among public universities throughout the entire nation. This is exciting news for SUU.”

Salt Lake Community College, after a robust summer term, had a 7.5% drop in enrollment this fall compared to a year ago.

SLCC spokesman Joy Tlou said the college is looking into the factors that contributed to the decline.

“We are experiencing an unprecedented sort of occurrence, not only with the global pandemic but also with the economy. Many of our students actually work and may be experiencing the very same financial pressures that we’re seeing certainly nationwide,” he said.

Utah Valley University continues to have the largest enrollment among Utah’s public universities, with a head count of 40,936 this fall. While fall 2020 numbers were slightly down from a year ago, the university saw an increase in numbers of Utah students, especially juniors, seniors and graduate students.  

“We found that students are staying closer to home during the pandemic,” said UVU President Astrid S. Tuminez, in a statement. “The numbers show we are educating more Utahns, which is our mandate from the Legislature. As always, we are committed to providing education that is accessible, affordable and relevant.”

Enrollment at Utah’s research universities — the University of Utah and Utah State University — was relatively flat, with the U.’s headcount up a bit and enrollment at USU slightly down.

The University of Utah heralded its fall 2020 enrollment as the largest in its 170-year history, and its freshman class its largest at 4,484 students as well as its most diverse.

“More students chose to enroll at the U. than ever before. This reflects both the value of our degrees and the incredible academic opportunities that the flagship of our state offers,” said Steve Robinson, senior associate vice president for enrollment management, in a statement.

The university also saw a record high in graduate enrollment with 8,404 graduate students this fall.

At USU, “total head count is basically flat at this point, but given these uncertain times and the COVID pandemic we all are facing, we’re optimistic about what we see,” said Robert Wagner, USU’s vice president for academic and instructional services.

According to a report on USU’s website, degree-seeking undergraduate enrollments for fall 2020 were up by 0.5%, representing an increase of more than 100 degree-seeking undergraduates. The increase is driven primarily by larger numbers of first-time undergraduates, recent high school graduates and first-time college students who graduated from high school more than a year ago.

Many of USU’s statewide campuses experienced increased enrollments, which may suggest that some students who chose to remain home are attending at those campuses instead of returning to Logan, Wagner said.

Snow College had record enrollment, with 5,800 students attending its Ephraim and Richfield campuses. The college attributed the increase to a significant uptick of first-time freshmen more than one year out of high school.

The college also experienced significant growth in the number of non-credit seeking students. This is likely due to the Learn and Work in Utah program, which gives people whose employment was affected by COVID-19 the chance to learn new skills and return to the workforce quickly.

More than 90% of Snow College’s courses are being offered in person, which appears to resonate with students’ desire to have some sort of normalcy in their education.

“Our faculty, staff and students are stepping up and making the most of this difficult time,” said Snow College President Brad Cook. “The high-quality, personalized experience available at Snow College is unique, and we are committed to providing this opportunity to all students.”

At Dixie State University, enrollment is on a sustained upward trajectory, climbing more than 40% the past five years. This fall, its enrollment is 12,043, which includes 3,210 new students to campus this fall. 

“We are excited to welcome a significant number of new students to campus, contributing to the largest student body in Dixie State’s history and being included among the growing public universities in Utah,” said DSU President Richard “Biff” Williams in a statement.

At Weber State University, enrollment was slightly down.

Despite the many challenges posed by a pandemic, total enrollment for Weber State University remained steady for fall 2020, down just 48 students from fall 2019 when enrollment hit a record 29,644 students.

Weber State University Provost Ravi Krovi said despite the challenges of 2020, student enrollment “reflects the incredible efforts of our dedicated faculty and staff.”

This fall, 30% of Weber State classes have at least some on-campus component — 11% of those are completely face to face — while another 59% are online, and 11% offer individualized instruction, including clinical lab supervision.