While a recent institution-wide study of the University of Wyoming states the university must look outside the state to boost its enrollment, state education officials said resident high school graduates are increasingly prepared for college.
UW hopes to raise its enrollment by more than 1,100 students in the next five years, according to its strategic plan. University leaders are looking to do this by increasing enrollment across the board, among both freshman and transfer students, both undergraduate and graduate, and both in-state and out-of-state students.
This last category — out-of-state students, primarily from Colorado and Nebraska, but from other states as well — received special attention in a recent study of UW’s capacity for growth.
Conducted by Huron Consulting Group, the study finds UW could accommodate up to 1,000-1,400 students. Rose Martinelli, the group’s senior director in higher education, presented the study during the UW Board of Trustees meeting Jan. 18
“We have to think about enrollment growth coming from all sources,” Martinelli said. “The trends in enrollment are not going to improve. They are going to weaken in the next decade. If you haven’t been aware of the international market, it has really been crashing in every place except the coasts and we expect that to continue in the near term.”
To overcome this roadblock, the study suggests lowering out-of-state undergraduate tuition from its current average of roughly $15,500 to $9,500, with further discounts for the highest achieving students.
Martinelli said the lower price point would help UW compete for prospective out-of-state students, who often have similarly priced options available to them in their home states. Colorado State University and Chadron State University, for example, are $9,151 and $8,370 respectively.
“We would like to grow our Wyoming population as much as feasibly possible,” Martinelli said. “It’s just there’s not a lot of population of high school graduates going on to college today, and that’s a separate problem. The propensity to go to college is lower than any other state. That’s a problem that needs to be addressed.”
While there has been a recent decrease in the state’s high school population, Wyoming high school graduates are increasingly prepared for college, based on all available metrics, Wyoming Department of Education Communications Director Kari Eakins said.
“We have an increase in Hathaway recipients over the course of the last five years,” she said. “Our graduation rates have increased over the last four years. Our ACT and statewide assessment scores have been increasing incrementally over the course of the last three years and the number of students who are taking dual and concurrent courses has also increased over the last three years.”
The department does not collect information on student attitudes toward college directly, but Eakins said these metrics suggest Wyoming is better preparing its students for college, many of whom choose to enroll at UW or the state community colleges.
“If you’re looking at the straight number of students in Wyoming, then there is a decrease there,” Eakins said. “We’re not ready to make any hard and fast correlations or causations about our high school graduates, but every indicator that we have says that our students are leaving high school prepared for the next steps in life.”
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow agreed.
“It’s imperative that we’re looking at our students in-state, as well as out-of-state,” she said. “In-state, we have the opportunity and responsibility to work together with partners in K-12 and higher education — both community colleges and the university — to ensure that we have a … queue of potential UW students who are prepared.”
Balow added there are other reasons for the university to recruit outside the state.
“We want UW to be an institution that anyone across the nation and around the world is proud to go to,” she said. “And that’s got a much different implication, or a much different set of challenges, than recruiting in-state.”
But out-of-state students could help bolster UW’s bottom line through the higher tuition they pay, compared to in-state students.
“What growth of non-resident students allows us to gain is tuition dollars — new tuition dollars into the enterprise to support the entire university living out its mission (as) a research institution and a teaching institution and a land-grant institution,” she said. “Those missions have to be supported together.”