Southern Utah University continues to lead enrollment growth for Utah's public colleges and universities, according to spring semester comparisons released Friday.

The Cedar City school touted a 3.5 percent enrollment increase over any other school in the system and a nearly 6 percent increase from its own numbers last year. The university's "liberal arts atmosphere, qualified professors, affordable programming" helped keep it on top, said SUU spokeswoman Jennifer Burt. She said small class sizes and individual attention have also become more popular among students seeking higher education.

In addition to the Thunderbirds at SUU, Dixie State College, Utah Valley State College and Salt Lake Community College saw increases in both head count and full-time equivalent students.

"We are seeing a slight increase in the number of students enrolled full time at our institutions, which tells us students who are going to college are taking more courses," said Interim Commissioner of Higher Education Dave Buhler.

Across the board, numbers were consistent with the slight growth patterns of previous years, exhibiting a decrease in the number of students attending higher education institutions and an increase in the number of course hours or FTE students.

"We encourage students to take as close to a full schedule as possible in order to graduate," Buhler said.

Numbers at the state's three largest schools — University of Utah, Utah State University and Weber State University — dropped by a couple of hundred or more from the same time last year. Snow College also lost more than 150 of its already small population of nearly 3,000 students.

The losses at the big schools make SUU's increases even more significant, Burt said.

Although the system has seen a decrease of .19 percent in one year, the number of women in Utah's schools is increasing.

"With high hopes to continue expanding both its student base and course offerings, SUU officials maintain the university will continue to focus on the school's niche: providing the public/private experience to students," Burt said. The university is offering two new graduate programs this year, and has recently added the only equine studies program in the state.

The State Board of Regents, which oversees enrollment at nine of 10 public institutions, excluding the Utah College of Applied Technology, will be discussing student retention at its upcoming annual planning meeting, as decreasing numbers of degree completions is contributing to falling enrollment.

"While we are working diligently to help students prepare for and participate in post-secondary training and education, we also need to ensure they are receiving the services and support they need to stay in college and complete their goals," Buhler said. "Our main objective is to produce self-sustaining adults, adults with a certificate or degree to compete in today's global economy."