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. Fall headcount at Utah's public colleges and universities neared 184,000 this fall, up nearly 4,000 students from a year ago, according to new numbers released Thursday by the Utah System of Higher Education.

SALT LAKE CITY — Fall headcount at Utah's public colleges and universities neared 184,000 this fall — up nearly 4,000 students from a year ago, according to new numbers released Thursday by the Utah System of Higher Education.

The increase was led by 7 percent-plus increases at Utah Valley University and Southern Utah University, with UVU remaining the state's largest institution with its headcount nearing 40,000 students.

“It’s wonderful that so many students are choosing to attend college, as it will make a significant difference in their future earnings and opportunities in life,” said Harris Simmons, chairman of the Utah State Board of Regents.

“With the anticipated influx of students over the next decade, it will be increasingly important to continue to receive legislative support to keep higher education accessible and affordable for all Utahns.”

SUU experienced a state-leading 7.69 percent increase over last year to boost its headcount to 10,196 students.

“It’s wonderful to see students coming to SUU in greater numbers, but what’s even more satisfying is seeing our students have a great experience here and succeed at high levels,” SUU President Scott Wyatt said in a statement.

SUU's incoming class, its largest ever, had an average GPA of 3.52, "making them the most prepared freshman class in SUU’s history," according to a university press release.

UVU President Astrid S. Tuminez said the university's unique dual-mission model provides access to a wide array of learners resulting in higher enrollment.

“We believe everyone deserves access to a college education, and our growth is reflective of that,” Tuminez said in a prepared statement.

“High school students are taking UVU classes concurrently. Top scholars are selecting UVU as their first-choice school. Transfer students are deciding to come here over so many other options. We’re seeing students with a myriad of backgrounds and interests who want to be at UVU for their entire college experience,” she said.

UVU is committed to strengthening its service region, which includes Utah, Wasatch and Summit counties.

Systemwide, fall enrollment grew by 3,915 students, for a net increase of 2.17 percent over the previous year.

Enrollment numbers at state colleges and universities indicate an additional 57,000 students will enroll in those institutions over the next decade.

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Two colleges experienced slight decreases in enrollment, a 1.57 percent dip at Salt Lake Community College and a nearly 1 percent drop at the state's smallest public institution, Snow College. Its fall enrollment was 5,514, down 49 students from a year ago.

Enrollment at SLCC dropped by 464 students to 29,154, but it remains the third-largest public institution in Utah.

Headcounts at the University of Utah, Utah State University and Weber State University increased slightly from the previous year.

A headcount is different than full-time enrollment. Headcounts count every student who takes a class.

Eight out of 10 Utah high school graduates who enroll in college attend one of Utah’s public colleges and universities.