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Evanson: UI shouldn't focus on in-state enrollment

BY KEITH EVANSON | OCTOBER 23, 2014 5:00 AM

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In the Oct. 16 issue of the Daily Iowan, a front-page story detailed the University of Iowa’s push to recruit more native Iowans. The UI admissions office reported that that it had received 2,301 applications from native Iowa residents for the 2015-2016 school year, which is dwarfed by the 3,371 applicants Iowa State has received. According to the Iowa State registrar, 66.7 percent of undergrads there are from the state of Iowa, while the UI Admissions Office states that 45 percent of UI students are from outside of Iowa.

When I was deciding on which college to attend, what really separated UI from the other schools in the state was just how completely different it was from where I grew up in rural northeast Iowa. I visited in the fall of 2010 and was amazed by how many different kinds of people I saw. Guys hailing from the suburbs of Chicago donned bright red hockey jerseys. Two women I saw walking were covered with headscarves, which I would later learn is a hijab worn by followers of Islam. Entering the IMU with my university tour guide, I overheard a conversation between people who were speaking a foreign language I had never heard before. After seeing all this I was sold on coming to school here. I was eager to enroll at UI, not because it actively recruited or tried to sell me but because in many ways this place sells itself.

This personal anecdote of mine isn’t different from many others who’ve decided to come here for similar reasons. But here is the problem: a huge amount of the University of Iowa’s funding depends on recruiting native Iowans. The Board of Regents released a new funding metric this year that distributes state dollars to Iowa’s three public universities based solely on the enrollment of resident Iowans. 60 percent of funding from the Regents will now be tied to in-state enrollment. Because Iowa State and UNI have higher enrollments of native Iowans, this harshly penalizes the UI. This fund allocation projects the UI to lose as much as $12.9 million per year for the next three years.

All three regent universities in the state of Iowa deserve an appropriate share of the funds contributed by the taxpayers of the state, but the new enrollment-based incentive isn’t justified. I’d be in favor of a system that places emphasis on total enrollment, regardless of residency. Also, I would like to see a performance-based metric included that allocates a higher proportion of funds to each university based on total graduates each year and rewarding schools for the development of professionals, many of whom will end up contributing to the state as doctors, engineers, and lawyers.

Many resources are used by the UI to try to recruit students; phone calls, letters, emails, and campus representatives are all utilized to keep enrollment high. As a native Iowan, I grew up knowing what kind of school the UI was solely because it was local. The same couldn’t be said for a 17-year-old kid growing up in West Chester, Pennsylvania, with dreams of entrepreneurship but doesn’t know that the Tippie College of Business at UI was ranked among the top 25 undergraduate programs in the nation. A talented writer attending a high school in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, may have no idea that the Iowa Writers’ Workshop has produced 28 Pulitzer Prize winners. When resources aren’t used to find these kinds of people, they probably won’t ever know.


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