Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
FILE - Utah Valley University students walk through the food court of the Sorensen Student Center on campus in Orem Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015.

SALT LAKE CITY — The head count at the state's public colleges and universities exceeded 180,000 students this fall, a systemwide increase of 2.78 percent over the previous year, according to figures released by the Utah System of Higher Education on Wednesday.

The number of students at the state institutions increased by 4,869 students. The growth comes on top of a like increase in head count of 4,739 a year ago.

The new enrollment figures also indicate that more Utah students are attending college full time, which higher education officials say is a key factor in timely completion of degrees.

Nearly half of the new head count can be attributed to a 6.5 percent increase in students attending Utah Valley University. The number of UVU students is 37,282, the highest among the state's colleges and universities for three years running.

Heather Tuttle
College enrollment

“This growth shows UVU’s responsiveness to the increasing population of Utah County, but that’s only part of the story,” UVU President Matthew S. Holland said in a statement.

“We take these numbers as a testament of our ability to meet the growing needs of our service region and the success of our dual-model mission and focus on engaged learning.”

Weber State University's head count increased by 1,140 students to 27,949, or an increase of 4.25 percent from the previous year.

Dixie State University had the highest percentage of growth in head count, with a 7.56 percent increase over the previous year. Head count for the St. George university climbed to 9,673 this fall, which was slightly higher than Southern Utah University at 9,468, although SUU had a 5.73 percent increase in head count from a year ago.

At the University of Utah, the state's flagship institution, head count was 32,800 this fall.

At Snow College, enrollment climbed to 5,563, nearly a 4 percent change over the previous year.

Meanwhile, Utah State University's head count was 27,679, slightly down from a year ago.

USU officials, in a statement on the university website, said "any enrollment slowdown will be the expected result of proactive strategic decisions to increase student retention and to help students graduate earlier — and less expensively."

USU President Noelle Cockett said in a statement that "the overall picture for our students is that their degree will be more affordable than it was before, and more students will be able to get their bachelor’s degrees."

Head count at Salt Lake Community College also fell slightly by about 1 percent to 29,620.

Across the system, 180,034 students enrolled in the state's eight public colleges and universities for the fall term of the 2017-18 school year. Among Utah high school graduates who elect to attend college, 80 percent attend state institutions of higher education.

“It’s great to see so many students choosing to attend college, as it will make a significant difference in their future earnings, career opportunities, and quality of life. Our colleges and universities are working hard to ensure courses are available and student services are continued for all students,” said Dave Buhler, Utah Commissioner of Higher Education.

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As we anticipate adding over 60,000 students in the next decade, it will be increasingly important to continue to receive legislative funding to keep higher education accessible and affordable for all Utahns.”

"Differences in enrollment growth between USHE institutions reflect the distinct mission of each institution and how external factors, such as changes in the economy and changes in individual academic programs, impact each institution," a press release from the Utah System of Higher Education states.