Fall enrollment of 31,825 shows strong retention

Masked students walk on central campus

Students head to class on the first day of the semester, Aug. 17. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Iowa State's one-year retention rate set a record this fall with 88.5% of first-year students returning for a second year. President Wendy Wintersteen says the retention rate is a testament to Iowa State’s commitment to students.

"Last year's first-year students didn't have a typical experience with the transition to virtual instruction after spring break," Wintersteen said. "The fact that these students are returning in record numbers shows their resiliency. It also reflects the work of so many faculty and staff on campus to support students by providing flexibility in courses and support services."

Record student success

Iowa State's fall enrollment of 31,825 students includes a diverse and academically strong class of 5,071 first-year students with a record GPA of 3.71 and 17.2% U.S. multicultural students. Laura Doering, associate vice president for enrollment management, says research has shown that high school GPA is the best indicator of college completion at Iowa State.

"We are extremely pleased to see year-over-year increases in GPA in our first-year students," Doering said.

The university also set a record of 74.7% for the six-year graduation rate, a federal standard set by the U.S. Department of Education, and Iowa State outperforms the national average by 20%. The average Iowa State student takes 4.4 years to complete their degree.

Overall, enrollment is down 1,566 students from last year, but Doering says this was expected due to the COVID-19 pandemic, immigration challenges and changes in Iowa's demographics.

Support for international students

Iowa State offers more than 90 learning communities and created a new one this fall for first-year international students who could not enter the country to attend classes on campus. The International Adventure learning community provides a 100% virtual experience for new international students to take common courses, connect with one another, receive support from peer mentors and explore career options from anywhere around the world. There are four options available: business, computer science, engineering and general education for students of all majors.


Fall 2020 enrollment by college

Agriculture and Life Sciences








Human Sciences


Liberal Arts and Sciences


Veterinary Medicine


Interdepartmental units and graduate undeclared