The University of Wyoming Division of Student Affairs has determined a student population of 15,000-16,000 is best for the institution.
“UW should grow its enrollment — it’s critical we grow our enrollment because we also need revenue growth,” Vice President for Student Affairs Sara Axelson said. “Essentially, we’ve been attracting around 7,000 applications, and that has generated about 5,400 admitted students and with a yield of about 2,000-2,500 new students a year, but we know this can be increased.”
One of the largest incentives to grow enrollment is cost, UW President Laurie Nichols explained.
“Right now, the instructional cost is at $14,000 (per student), but if we get more students, the instructional cost goes down,” she said. “The goal is not to be at $14,000. The goal is to be at $13,000 because we have capacity to have more students at this university and to educate them. Right now, our instructional cost is very high. Our goal is to bring that down.”
Because the average tuition paid by students is about $4,500, UW loses money teaching every student. However, getting more students reduces the total instructional costs, said Anne Alexander, associate vice president for undergraduate affairs.
“Every student that comes doesn’t need a brand new advisor, a brand new advising center or anything related,” she said. “We don’t have to build a whole new dorm per new student. So there are economies of scale. There are efficiencies.”
Raising the student-to-faculty ratio can also increase efficiencies. While UW normally has a 14:1 faculty ratio, comparator institutions are about 18:1 or 19:1. If UW raises the student-to-faculty ratios to 18:1 or 19:1 like other peer institutions, each additional student would cost about $2,600-$2,800 in instructional, academic support and student services costs.
Recruiting students is still the largest obstacle to raising efficiencies and, essentially, gaining larger tuition prices. About 700 Wyoming high school graduates enrolled for the 2015 school year — not good enough for Axelson or Nichols.
“We need more Wyoming high school graduates, especially the high achievers, coming to the university, and we’re going to be focused there in our efforts,” Axelson said. “We also need to attract more non-resident students and go to particular areas we’ll be able to sustain some good markets of students coming to us.”
Colorado has produced many students at UW, but Axelson plans to also focus on other border states.
Program agreements with community colleges are another way to increase enrollment in the future, Axelson said.
“We also think there’s a possibility to increase our international students from 800 students currently to about 1,000 students,” she said.
UW Trustee Michelle Sullivan said one possible road block to in-state students to enroll is the overall culture of Wyoming.
“We have a challenge with the culture of college-going in Wyoming,” she said.
“In addition to it just being about recruiting, it’s about helping young people understand earlier just how important higher education is.”
Some facilities at UW, particularly the residence halls, are also a potential problem for recruitment, Axelson said.
“Our residence halls do not compare (to other institutions),” she said. “It’s consistently a factor that comes up from prospective students.”
Various discounts for students, including out-of-state students, is also dipping into potential revenue. Trustee President John MacPherson said this practice should be reduced and eventually eliminated.
“If it’s private (scholarships), that’s fine, but I don’t think it’s fair to ask Wyoming taxpayers to educate somebody from northern Colorado,” he said.
However, Axelson said some non-resident students have begun to expect discounts, and she hazarded taking a strong strategic approach to lowering such discounts.
“With our out-of-state tuition being four times the cost of our in-state tuition, I think there’s a point to which we need to carefully look at how soon we want to increase that at a larger amount, because our ability to attract students becomes that more difficult,” she said.