When 13,000 students failed to re-enroll this fall at Salt Lake Community College, President Cynthia Bioteau decided she couldn't just let it go.
Instead, Bioteau got on the phone and started calling each of the students with one simple question: "What can I do to get you back in school?"
Thirteen thousand phone calls later, Bioteau and many other administrators had lured almost 40 percent of those students back to the classroom.
"Students thinking the president of the college would call them were blown away. Some thought it was as joke," she said. "The bottom line was, we do care that you're a person first and student second."
Bioteau's unique retention effort added a personal touch to university campaigns across the state to keep enrollments up in the face of 10 years of projected plateaus and decreases.
Utah higher education institutions lost 1,422 students this year, or about 1 percent of the total. In terms of budgets, that's funding lost for about 963 full-time equivalent spots. The Utah State Board of Regents will be discussing the latest dip at its meeting Thursday.
Five of Utah's nine public institutions lost students this year: the University of Utah, Utah State University, Dixie State College, the College of Eastern Utah and Salt Lake Community College. Several of those institutions are facing much larger losses than the state average, with Dixie posting a 16 percent loss in the number of students enrolled.
The battle for students isn't getting any easier with a hot job market luring away many students.
That added competition is forcing college leaders to create new ways to get students back in classrooms, said Donna Dillingham-Evans, vice president of academics at Dixie.
Dixie, for example, lost the highest number of students about 1,020 this year from its enrollments in 2005. Much of that dip, Dillingham-Evans noted, stems from the surging cost of living in St. George. More students are stopping their educations to make some quick money.
In addition to losing students altogether, many others are curtailing their course loads to accommodate full-time jobs. The average course load has dropped every year since 2002, she said.
"When the economy is booming as it is in Washington County, many of the students who would go to college otherwise go to work because they can make more money," Dillingham-Evans said. "We'll see a turnaround. I'm positive."
To combat the shrinking enrollments, Dillingham-Evans said Dixie has created two task forces to look at how to help more transfer students ease into the college and how to access more financial aid.
At the University of Utah, leaders are looking toward better advising to buoy its numbers. This year, the U. lost about 460 students. The university may even look into mandatory advising to require that students meet with a counselor annually, said John Francis, the U.'s vice president for academic affairs.
"We need to convey to them there's value in sticking with your degree," he said.
The U. has also felt the effects of the hot economy, showing a marked increase in the number of sophomores and juniors who took time off to work. The problem, Francis said, is that many of those students never return.
"I don't favor the loss of any students. If I felt students were leaving because we're failing them, I'd become more concerned," Francis said. "If we're losing them because of the siren song of the economy, that's a different story."
Southern Utah University was one of four schools that added students this fall, a trend that Dean O'Driscoll, assistant to the university's president, attributes to a campuswide effort to get back to the basics. One-on-one relationships with professors and revamped efforts to get students involved on campus have helped the university be a leader in growth for the past three years, he added.
In fact, while many institutions are trying to stave off decreases in the coming years, leaders at SUU hope to add 3,000 students by 2011.
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