Enrollment struggles at the College of Eastern Utah can be attributed to four factors: concurrent enrollment, losing the CEU Grand County service, transfer of CEU technology classes to the Utah College of Applied Technology and the recent boom in energy, oil and gas industries in Eastern Utah.
According to the CEU annual report on finance and enrollment submitted to the Utah Board of Regents office, the turn of the century brought a “perfect demographic storm” where local demographics combined with other factors negatively impacted CEU’s enrollment.
While the number of potential students locally dropped in total, the Utah Legislature and Utah Board of Regents made a series of decisions that further impacted enrollment.
The Legislature began encouraging high school students to take “concurrent enrollment” courses – college courses primarily taught by high school faculty on high-school campuses. These courses are free to the students, but do not count for head count or FTE enrollments unless the students come to the CEU campus (or any other public higher education campus) or take the course via distance education.
The program encourages students to earn an associate’s degree while still in high school, providing a scholarship worth 75 percent of tuition for two years for those complete upon high school graduation. As a two-year institution, the net result to CEU (and Utah’s other two-year institutions) is that our “product” is given away with little hope of getting that student to come to campus.
Secondly, Grand County requested that the regents designate a single-service provider in Moab (the largest city in a county largely comprised of national parks). Grand County preferred to use the Utah State University Extension Service to provide select four-year degrees, resulting in CEU enrollments from Grand County falling to near negligible numbers.
In 2008, the Legislature provided $1 million for CEU to partner with USU to offer affordable lower-division classes leading to a bachelor’s degree. A significant piece of the partnership will focus on Moab and Grand County.
In an attempt to solve a problem with career and technical education in urban parts of the state, the Legislature created the Utah College of Applied Technology as a statewide provider of non-credit training.
The new law transferred a substantial part of CEU’s mission to a new state institution and created a situation where two state entities were forced to compete with each other to provide educational services.
Following a detailed analysis by the regents, the Legislature realized the futility of funding competing institutions with a limited population base and folded the Southeast Applied Technology College back into the Career and Technical Education division of CEU.
These four factors contributed to the college’s struggles with enrollment. However, enrollment trends appear to be turning. Enrollment is up over the five-year period on the San Juan Campus and appears to have stabilized on the Price campus – overall head count is up slightly while hours taken per student lags behind.
Enrollment improvements on the San Juan Campus can be tied to CEU restructuring its scholarship endowment. The endowment is designed to help Navajo students in the Four-Corners Region and all potential students residing in San Juan County attend college. The restructuring provided a more streamlined approach to calculating awards and provided managers with better data to offer awards.
CEU is focusing on strategies to attract out of area students and to encourage local students to enroll and “take an extra hour.” Only 26 percent of CEU resident students come from outside the four-county service region.
Enrollment at CEU was 2,471 in 2004-05; 2,179 in 2005-06; 2,220 in 2006-07; 2,078 in 2007-08 and 2,082 in 2008-09. The projected enrollment for 2009-10 is up to 2,145 and in 2010-11 is again up to 2,265.
While head count at the San Juan campus has maintained at 500 students, CEU’s Price campus dropped from almost 2,000 students in 2004-05 to 1,500 in 2007-08. It rose slightly in 2008-09.
Carbon and Emery counties account for the majority of the enrollment with Carbon furnishing 32 percent of CEU students followed by Emery with 19 percent. Twenty five of Utah counties make up 26 percent of the CEU student body.
According to Recruiter Terry Johnson, CEU is the only school in the state to attract a higher percentage of students from outside it service area. “We have students represented from all areas of the state.
In order to encourage more out of area Utah students to travel past multiple institutions, the administration targeted burdensome debt in the housing operation. With debt relief from the Legislature, housing rates remained low and plans for improvements have attracted students to live on campus. This year, CEU dormitories have at least one resident in every room as any remaining capacity would be in shared rooms only.
The two-pronged approach to get local students to take more classes while trying to attract out of area students is driven by local demographics. CEU is by far Utah’s best provider for its region on a percentage basis. Three quarters of all freshmen and sophomores from the four-county service regions that attend a public college or university are on the CEU campus. Of freshmen and sophomores in the CEU service region attending a public state college (CEU, Snow College, Utah Valley University, Salt Lake CC, or Dixie State College), more than 80 percent are attending the College of Eastern Utah.
Retention rates at CEU track closely with national averages for open-entry, two-year public colleges. CEU’s student population mirrors that of other community colleges – students work more hours, take fewer classes and come from the local area.
Two key external factors impact retention significantly. First, many of CEU students leave after one year to serve missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although the actual number of students is small, it often surpasses ten percent of the freshman class.
Second, Utah encourages students to take concurrent enrollment – a program where students earn fully transferable credit for no charge while enrolled in high school. While this impacts all nine state colleges and universities negatively, four-year state institutions at least receive an opportunity to use the classes as a “loss leader” in hopes that a student will persist to a four-year degree. For Utah’s three community colleges, the concurrent enrollment program essentially gives their product to customers for no charge with little hope of recovering those students later.