Initial findings from the University of Wyoming’s ongoing capacity study recommend lowering non-resident tuition to attract prospective students from neighboring states.
UW leadership tasked Huron Consulting Group with evaluating the university’s capacity for enrollment growth and attracting new students.
“They have dived very deeply into our data,” UW President Laurie Nichols said during a presentation Dec. 13 to the Board of Trustees. “I think the findings have been fascinating.”
Broadly, the study finds UW capable of — and well-suited for — expansion.
“With currently scheduled courses, the university appears to have capacity for an additional 800-1,700 students to take 10 courses during the academic year,” the study states.
The group examined residential capacity, institutional capacity and student support. The university’s residential capacity — measured by its 1,850-1,900 available freshman beds — was the only one of those elements likely to seriously constrain growth, said Rose Martinelli, Huron Consulting Group’s senior director of higher education.
“Currently, our first-time full-time enrollment is about 1,700, and we have the transfer enrollment of roughly 1,000,” she said. “So, there aren’t any current constraints today that could not be addressed by changing the housing policy and/or the new housing plan.”
Already enjoying strong student support and plenty of classroom space, UW will have to increase its housing capabilities if it hopes to draw in more students, especially from Nebraska and Colorado, Martinelli said.
“The truest most actual constraint is residential capacity,” she said. “And if we grew at the university in non-resident students, this is an area — through policy and through additional housing — we would need to address.”
UW must look at these neighboring states if it wishes to increase enrollment, Martinelli said.
“While the university can begin marginally increasing the students from Wyoming, it is a population that is constrained and shrinking across the state, with many other educational opportunities across the state,” she said. “The opportunity to grow will be in non-residents.”
Martinelli’s team conducted a survey of prospective students from both Nebraska and Colorado to gauge attitudes toward UW.
“Our survey data suggests that a price of roughly $12,000-13,000 was considered to be a great value,” Martinelli said. “Our current price point is around $15,500 for out-of-state residents. When you think about what the Colorado and Nebraska students have to pay within their states, they are paying approximately $10,000 for in-state tuition.”
The capacity study recommends using these figures to formulate a new baseline for out-of-state tuition.
“Setting tuition for Colorado and Nebraska between $9,500-$10,000, with a discount for top academic students, would likely increase clarity and appeal for these prospective students for Wyoming,” the study states.
Residential capacity was the greatest limiting factor, according to the study, but other elements need improvement, Martinelli said. While UW has plenty of instructional space and enough open seats to handle an increased enrollment, course scheduling and academic management were too flexible.
“At the University of Wyoming, there’s 650 unique start times, which means there’s a lot of exceptions where courses start and end outside of block scheduling, making it very difficult for students to take courses that, in many ways, conflict with a few minutes of another course,” Martinelli said.
As UW increases enrollment, or seeks to, it should not result in the university being less selective, said Trustee Dick Scarlett.
“My only concern in all this is that we maintain our quality standards,” he said. “And I worry that in the attempt to attract more and more students that we lower our standards.”
Martinelli said increased interest in UW, brought on by more attractive tuition rates offered to out-of-state students or other measures, would give the university the ability to be more selective, not less.
“The idea is to enhance, to grow, but also not to lose quality,” she said.
“We want to preserve and/or advance quality as we move forward.”