SALT LAKE CITY — If officials at the University of Utah have their way, the student body will look very different in five years, more high-achieving and diverse.
Administrators recently presented the school's desired future "student enrollment profile" to the U.'s trustees. While the university hopes to hold its enrollment head count steady at about 32,000, more of those students will come from out-of-state and overseas, under the "Pac-12 plan" developed by consultants over the past year and a half.
The U. hopes to raise its academic profile to be in line with the schools in its new, high-profile athletic conference as well as other research universities across the country.
The university's goals include:
A 50-50 gender split in all classes. Now, there are an equal number of men and women in incoming freshman classes, but that tilts 55-45 toward men as women drop out to get married and start families. Officials said they believe the U. is the only major research university in the country that has a majority of male students. They hope to help women stay in school by offering flexible schedules and more child care.
Seventy-five percent of students from Utah, 20-25 percent from out-of-state and 7-10 percent international, from at least 50 foreign countries. The U. has stepped up its out-of-state recruitment efforts, especially in Texas and California. It's already seeing increases from those states, as well as Idaho and Nevada. International applications are up 29 percent over last year, including many from China in partnership with Kaplan University, and many from the Middle East.
An average ACT score of 26 for incoming freshmen, which would put the U. in the upper 15 percent in the country. The average now is 24. The U. wants 90 percent of its freshmen to be in the top half of their graduating high school class, and for half to have a high school GPA of at least 3.5.
An undergraduate-graduate ratio of 70-30, and a full-time/part-time ratio of 75-25.
An increase in students graduating within six years from 56 percent to 70 percent, and in retention from first- to second-year students from 65 percent to 85 percent. Officials concede those numbers will be a "real stretch," especially with the break many students take to serve an LDS mission.
Half of freshmen living on campus, up from 30 percent. That's physically impossible now, even with the recent groundbreaking for a 312-bed Honors College housing project. But officials say a move away from a commuter campus will make the U. more vibrant and make students more likely to persist through graduation.
President Michael Young told trustees that by toughening admission standards, the U. will be able to "shape" each incoming class to create an optimal experience for each student. Currently, some programs are overfilled while others have too few students.
The uneven numbers mean resources are not maximized. Officials hope more focused advising, with more active participation from faculty, will guide students into programs where they will be successful instead of changing majors, as many now do several times.
Barbara Snyder, the U.'s vice president for student affairs, said the school is perfectly positioned to raise its academic profile as the attention of joining the Pac-12 attracts more applicants. Freshman applications are up 14 percent over last year.
"You can't minimize the impact of that kind of exposure and opportunity," Snyder said.
In addition, she said, an expected surge in Utah high school graduates and continued population growth along the Wasatch Front will swell the U.'s applicant pool. Meanwhile, compared to other states, Utah's relatively stable fiscal situation should prevent the deep cuts state schools elsewhere have experience.
At the same time, the U. will become more selective and cap enrollment. Its admission rate will fall from the current 90 percent, while officials hope the yield — the number admitted who enroll — will climb steadily from 40 percent. The U. will become more strict in enforcing application deadlines, and may impose an enrollment deposit to force prospective students to commit.
Getting into the U., now considered a given by many high school graduates, will be tougher as the school raises its admission index, a score composed of grades and test scores. The U. will weigh GPA more heavily, having learned it is a better predictor of college success than test scores. Now, a minimum 2.6 GPA and ACT score of 18 are required, although achieving only the minimums of both make admission unlikely.
The admissions standards will become less transparent, meaning students won't know for sure if they've done enough to be admitted. That may encourage more applications. And those who get in will have their senior year transcripts scrutinized to make sure their performance did not drop off.
The new policies will "force a sea change in how people think about who we are and what the requirements are," Snyder said.
The U. will likely play only a small role in a statewide higher education plan to add 100,000 students to Utah's public colleges by 2020.
"We don't see ourselves growing tremendously," Snyder said. "We see ourselves changing in terms of quality."
That worries trustees chairman Randy Dryer, who noted the explosive growth at several other schools in Utah's public higher education system.56 comments on this story
"We've got to find some way not to be penalized in relation to other institutions," Dryer said, adding that initiatives like expanding the Honors College will carry a hefty price tag. "I'm concerned we could end up on the short end of the stick given the other demands and other growth elsewhere."
But the U.'s budget chief, Paul Brinkman, said that with the "mission-based funding" scheme approved by the Legislature this year, the U. will be funded on other metrics, including retention and graduation. Until now, state schools have always been funded for growth.
"If mission-based funding goes forward as planned, we'll be fine," Brinkman said.