Enrollment shows ninth year of growth in 2015

First day of classes, Fall 2015.

Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Iowa State’s enrollment prediction was spot-on. The university’s fall 2015 enrollment of 36,001 is the largest in school history, an increase of nearly 3.7 percent (1,269 students) over the previous record of 34,732 in fall 2014.

It’s the seventh year of record enrollment and the ninth consecutive year of growth at Iowa State. In the last decade, overall enrollment has grown 40 percent. The student body represents every Iowa county, every U.S. state and 118 countries.

More Iowa undergraduates are attending Iowa State than ever before: 19,285 students, or 64.2 percent of ISU’s undergraduate student body, are Iowans. Overall, 21,064 Iowans attend ISU, also a record.

“Our enrollment is demand-driven,” said President Steven Leath. “We’re proud to continue to educate more Iowa students than any other institution in the world. Students are choosing Iowa State because of our renowned faculty, our supportive culture and because we offer the programs that are driving our economy. Our enrollment strategy has remained the same, and that is our steadfast commitment to our land-grant mission.”  

Nearly 95 percent of Iowa State graduates are either employed or pursuing further education within six months of graduation.

Iowa State’s freshman class of 6,231 students includes 3,586 Iowans (both records).  

Iowa State’s first-year, full-time student retention rate jumped a full point to 87.4 percent, well above the national average and just under ISU’s record of 87.7 percent set in fall 2011. The average ACT score for new freshmen also has increased the last two years, to 25.09 in fall 2015.

By the numbers

Iowa State’s student numbers set records in the following categories this fall:

  • Record undergraduate enrollment of 30,034, an increase of 1,141 students from last fall’s record of 28,893.
  • Record graduate enrollment of 5,096, an increase of 146 students from the fall 2014 record of 4,950.
  • Record international student enrollment of 4,041, an increase of 13 students from last fall’s record of 4,028.
  • Record diversity. Total U.S. multicultural and international enrollment is 8,366, or 23.24 percent of the student body. (The previous record set in fall 2014 was 8,093, or 23.3 percent of the student body.)
  • U.S. multicultural enrollment is 4,325 (12 percent of total enrollment), a new record and an increase over last fall’s 4,065 students.
  • Record U.S. multicultural enrollment among new freshmen: 888 students, up from last year’s record of 802. Multicultural students represent 14.3 percent of new freshmen at Iowa State.
  • Record total Iowa resident enrollment of 21,064, up 804 students from last fall.
  • Record Iowa resident undergraduate enrollment of 19,285, up 807 from last year’s record of 18,478.
  • Record total U.S. nonresident enrollment of 10,609, up 414 students from last year’s record of 10,195 students.
  • Record U.S. nonresident undergraduate enrollment of 8,611, up 398 students from last year’s record of 8,213.
  • Record U.S. nonresident new freshman enrollment of 2,369, up 129 students from last year’s record of 2,240 students.

Budget model, big data, faculty hires

President Steven Leath at the lectern.

Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Boost faculty hires. Strengthen ISU's position in big data. Raise the fundraising target for student scholarships. Scrutinize the budget model. These are a few of the items on President Steven Leath's to-do list for the coming year.

Leath shared his priorities and observations and enumerated a variety of Iowa State accomplishments in his Sept. 10 presidential address. Approximately 175 faculty, staff and students attended the event in the Memorial Union's Great Hall.

Here are highlights from the address.


Video of the president's address.

Budget model

Leath said he has asked chief of staff Miles Lackey to scrutinize the budget model, examining direct and allocated costs "to assure that we're aligning incentives between service units and the colleges," he said.

"The bottom line is I think the costs that many of you are being charged are too high. Some of them are way too high for internal services," he added.

Lowering those costs will give academic units and student services units more money to put toward important programs, Leath added.

Faculty Senate and the student experience

For three years, two presidential committees have been responsible for making recommendations to maintain and improve the student experience. The committee work has ended and "I'm going to take a more targeted approach to address the needs of our growing university," Leath said.

Leath said he is asking the Faculty Senate to assist him in identifying ways to move forward in institutional excellence. The senate will be asked to consider such questions as: How do we do continue to expand capacity, lower student-faculty ratio, secure more competitive funding? What are the things administration needs to do to make faculty lives easier and make our faculty more successful?

Developing the strategic plan

Leath said he delayed development of Iowa State's next strategic plan so it could be coordinated with strategic planning by both the Board of Regents and the Iowa State University Foundation.  It makes sense to develop the plans at the same time and to have one person "know what's going on with all of them," Leath said.

That person will be Steve Freeman, professor of agriculture and biosystems engineering, and former Faculty Senate president. Leath has asked Freeman to oversee Iowa State's strategic plan and be a point person with the foundation and regents.


Leath lauded three longtime leaders who will depart in the coming months:

  • Senior vice president for student affairs Tom Hill, who "has been the architect and the champion of the Iowa State brand and student experience," will leave at year's end to spend more time with his family in Texas. He will continue his association with Iowa State a bit longer, serving as senior policy adviser on student experience issues and continuing as Iowa State's representative on the NCAA Infractions Committee.
  • University counsel Paul Tanaka, who "has faced some very challenging situations with wisdom and integrity" and maintained the university's reputation for "extremely high ethics," will retire at the end of spring semester.
  • Dean of the College of Human Sciences Pam White, who had "tremendous success in increasing enrollment, fundraising and advancing academic research missions and programs," will retire in July.

In demand

The high demand for an Iowa State education continues, Leath said. With the official student count this fall -- 36,001 -- Iowa State notched its seventh consecutive year of record enrollment.

"We're the only institution in the whole state that has experienced this kind of demand-driven growth, especially to this extent," Leath said.

He added students are drawn to Iowa State because of its commitment to the land-grant mission, first-rate programs in areas that align with and drive the economy, excellent faculty and staff, a supportive culture, good facilities, a beautiful campus and 95 percent placement rate.

"My first priority will still be fulfilling our land-grant mission to make a first-class education accessible and affordable," Leath said.

Leath said he was pleased that Iowa State resident undergraduates enjoyed a third consecutive tuition freeze this semester and noted that the university continues to have the lowest tuition and fees in its peer group of 11 universities. But invoking his oft-repeated mantra -- "access and affordability without quality is no bargain" -- he added that Iowa State, with student backing, will raise tuition in the spring for resident undergraduates -- about $100 per student.

More dollars for students

Leath said officials are working aggressively to raise more funds for student financial aid and scholarships.  The president's Moving Students Forward campaign, launched three years ago with a goal of $150 million by fall 2017, already has brought in more than $145 million. Leath announced he was resetting that goal to $200 million.

"We've seen the results," Leath said. "Last year, more than 5,800 students received privately funded scholarships on this campus. Our students are taking out fewer loans. They're graduating with less debt. The average debt load, for example, of an Iowa State student, dropped 5 percent over the last three years and more than 10 percent in the last nine years."

Fundraising and faculty support

Fundraising hit a new high mark last year -- $167 million -- and this year, officials are finalizing plans for the largest university-wide campaign.

Fundraising "enables us to do the things that we feel are important on this campus," Leath said. This includes not only funding student scholarships and lowering debt, but enhancing faculty's ability to do research and scholarly work.

Leath noted Iowa State gained two new National Academy members this year:

  • New associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering Ronald Leonard, a member of the National Academy of Engineering
  • Cathy Kling, a Distinguished Professor of Agriculture and Life Sciences, professor of economics and director of the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development

"I want to position more of our faculty to get to the level and have the recognition they deserve," he said. "If we don't continue to raise private funds to support our faculty so they can achieve greatness like this, we're not doing our jobs."

External funding record

Leath attributed the FY15 external funding record of  $425 million to outstanding work by faculty and the new Grants Hub, which provides a number of services to help researchers obtain and manage external funding. In its first seven months, the Grants Hub helped 130 faculty submit more than $60 million in proposals.

Presidential research initiative 

Leath said he's pleased with the progress of the Presidential Initiative for Interdisciplinary Research, a program he launched two years ago to develop research teams equipped to tackle the world's greatest challenges. Teams involved in the initiative have submitted $257 million in grant applications and netted $24 million in new funding. And two of the teams -- one focusing on nanovaccines and the other on crop bioengineering -- are ready to develop into interdisciplinary centers.

Big data

Leath announced that he was expanding the initiative to provide seed funding for projects in data-driven science.

"I want to truly strengthen Iowa State's position as a pioneer in this field of big data," Leath said. "Data science impacts every field, from business to the hard sciences to social sciences. The ability to capture massive amounts of data and harness the information, distill it down to identify industry needs, improve processes, and develop new technologies among other things has transformative potential in so many disciplines.

"We have the fundamental sciences, the fundamental expertise, great faculty in these areas already," he added. "This new research initiative combined with our new online master's program in business analytics presents tremendous opportunities to become a global leader in big data."

Faculty, staff compensation

"The students wouldn't be knocking at the doors, 36,000 at a time, if it wasn't for our outstanding faculty and staff," Leath said.

"We want the best people here. And I think we've been able to acknowledge their work with salary increases over the last four years. But that being said, I was particularly disappointed that we couldn't provide higher increases this year. We had a very challenging legislative session this year."

The No. 1 priority for FY17 is to get additional monies for faculty and staff salaries, Leath said.

Performance-based funding

Leath said he also was disappointed that the General Assembly didn't implement the state Board of Regents' performance-based funding model.

"Our funding in general went up. I'm pleased about that, but it didn't go up to the numbers I think we needed or that we justified. The Legislature did recognize the differences with the universities and gave us $1.2 million of recurring monies," Leath said.

 "And I think we made huge inroads with the governor and the Legislature about what Iowa State is about."

Larger state appropriation request for FY17

Iowa State will submit a larger state appropriation request in recurring dollars than usual, Leath said.

"For FY17, we've gone through the Board of Regents, got their blessing and we're going to ask for $8.2 million in recurring money, in addition to what we get, to move the university forward," He said. "This compares to a smaller request than our sister universities, but I think we have a strong case at Iowa State for that larger request."

Lowering the student-to-faculty ratio

"In making a case to the Legislature, we will emphasize the need for additional funding to support strategic new faculty hires," Leath said. "I am making it a priority this year to lower our student-to-faculty ratio."

Leath noted that over the past 15 years, while enrollment increased 35 to 40 percent in different units, the student-to-faculty ratio jumped more than 46 percent from 13-to-1 to 19-to-1.  Leath said he wants to move that ratio closer to 16-to-1.

 Over the past three years, Iowa State has hired 365 new tenured or tenure-eligible faculty.

"But with attrition and especially our unprecedented growth, we've actually not gained on that ratio at all," Leath said.

"We need additional resources," he said. In addition to faculty hires, additional funds would go toward additional advising support, class offerings, graduate student recruitment and expanding IT infrastructure.

Student health center

Leath noted officials have taken significant steps over the past year to address problems at the student health center.

"We commissioned Keeling and Associates, one of the best health care consulting organizations in the country, to come in, assess our health center and make recommendations on how we can improve it," Leath said.

"We're hired an interim director. We've hired a quality improvement officer. We now have certified medical assistants serving as the first point of contact at the reception desk. We've provided new training for all nurses and physicians on how to better communicate with patients. We're adding psychologists to our mental health center. We've expanded hours. I am confident that this semester, our students will see substantial improvements in service and in care."

Sexual assault

Iowa State is ramping up efforts to address sexual assault on campus, Leath said. The university participated in the Association of American Universities' Sexual Assault Campus Climate Survey last spring. AAU will provide survey results later this month and Iowa State, in turn, will release that information.

Leath said the university will use those survey results to reexamine its current practices and develop new policies to better promote a culture of zero tolerance and improve support for survivors.

Post-Veishea showcase

During the Q&A portion of the evening, a student asked Leath if there are any initiatives afoot to develop some kind of festival that showcases student talents and clubs at Iowa State.

Leath said that last spring, he approached Faculty Senate president Kevin Schalinske as well as outgoing student government president Hillary Kletscher and incoming president Dan Breitbarth on this issue. Schalinske, Breitbarth and student body vice president Megan Sweere are three of the members on a six-member committee – three faculty and three students – studying some options.

"I told them we need to be thoughtful about what we can do to showcase this university, give students some of the opportunities they really want here, without risking a disturbance or having another major student injury or death," Leath said.

"The truth of the matter is – and this is my deal – I was not in a hurry," Leath added. "I felt we needed a little down time between what happened last time and starting again. And I'm certainly not in favor of putting a bunch of events in the same week or the same weekend in April."

Leath said the committee would release its first set of recommendations later this month.

Spring tuition increase is for ISU, UNI students only

University of Iowa resident undergraduates will be exempt from a 3 percent spring semester tuition increase assessed their peers at both Iowa State and the University of Northern Iowa. The state Board of Regents approved regent Patty Cownie's amended tuition proposal, on a 7-2 vote, after Iowa student government president Liz Mills told the board her university "doesn't have the same need" for revenue as Iowa State and UNI.

Mills also was critical of the "short notice" for the tuition increase. Board president Bruce Rastetter noted that he floated the idea of a spring increase at the board's June meeting, shortly after a late adjournment of the 2015 Iowa Legislature.

Regents Katie Mulholland and Larry McKibben voted against the amended tuition proposal, though McKibben had noted earlier that he wouldn't support any proposal for a spring tuition increase.

Stating they prefer smaller, steady increases to large spikes on the heels of tuition freezes, Dan Breitbarth and Katie Evans, student body presidents at Iowa State and UNI respectively, urged board members to support the spring increase. Breitbarth said the various ISU student group leaders he spoke with nearly unanimously agreed on a "dire need" for additional revenue.

The increase translates to a $100 spring tuition hike for most Iowa State resident undergraduates; up to $133 for students in programs with previously approved differential tuitions. It will raise an estimated $1.65 million in additional revenue for Iowa State.

FY17 state appropriation requests

The board faces an Oct. 1 deadline to submit funding requests to the state (governor and Legislature) for the year that begins July 1, 2016.

For the second consecutive year, the board will request differential changes to the three universities' general university operations appropriations. The board approved requests of a 4.5 percent ($8.2 million) increase for Iowa State to meet student enrollment growth and an 8.1 percent ($7.6 million) increase for the University of Northern Iowa for what Rastetter called a "historical financial budget structure challenge that isn't going away." Originally proposed to remain flat, the University of Iowa's general university appropriation request is for a $4.5 million (1.9 percent) increase.

Several regents cited conversations with Iowa's incoming president, Bruce Harreld, who requested additional funding to strengthen Iowa's core teaching and research missions. Rastetter proposed the change to the appropriations request.

But other regents noted "a disconnect" between the messages coming from the University of Iowa.

"I am troubled by the mixed messages from the students, who say there's no need for more revenue, and the institution leaders, who say there is," Mulholland said. "We just approved a tuition increase for two schools only."

The board also will request a 2.7 percent increase for directed appropriations to all schools, whether covered by education, agricultural or economic development funds. Examples at Iowa State include the veterinary diagnostic lab, ag experiment station and cooperative extension.

The upper end of the inflation range in the Higher Education Price Index for FY17 is 2.7 percent.

Student health center update

Associate vice president for student affairs Martino Harmon updated board members on changes occurring at the Thielen Student Health Center, both prior to and in response to a critical assessment of the center completed in March by consultant Keeling and Associates. The changes address capacity, service access and fiscal concerns. They include:

  • Identifying two finalists for the director's post who will interview on campus this month
  • Hiring four certified medical assistants to staff the front desk
  • Hiring a second triage nurse to help handle the high volume of student phone calls and follow-up office visits
  • Conducting searches for two full-time assistant directors: one in clinical services and one in administrative services (who starts Sept. 24)
  • Extending service hours during Dead Week, a stressful week for students
  • Hiring (in July) a quality improvement officer, who is preparing the center for accreditation in March 2016
  • Assessing the appropriate mix of physicians and nurse practitioners and opening searches for both. Financially, two nurse practitioners can be hired for the cost of one physician and the Keeling team endorses the use of nurse practitioners in a student health setting, Harmon said. University human resources is allowing continuous, open searches in this case to minimize vacancies when medical professionals leave or retire.
  • Hiring two more mental health professionals and renovating second-floor space to provide more privacy for the center's mental health services
  • Working with student leaders to identify strategies for expanding access to services
  • Making modifications to the center's financial model for better efficiencies and to open new revenue streams

Harmon said the university will do a comprehensive study on expanding the Thielen building that reflects future needs in both clinical services and staffing.

"We know we have a long way to go. We've made great progress over a short period of time but we're not there yet. We're going to continue to work extremely hard to get there," Harmon said. "I want you to know that the staff of the Thielen Student Health Center are a group of hardworking, committed, dedicated people. They care about students and they're committed to these changes."

ISU retirements

During his prepared remarks, President Steven Leath announced the retirement of two more Iowa State leaders: senior vice president for student affairs Tom Hill (in December) and university counsel Paul Tanaka (next spring). He also shared with the board the previously announced retirement of Human Sciences dean Pam White (in July 2016). Leath said the university will launch national searches for all three positions.

Fall enrollments

The three university presidents made the first public announcements of their schools' fall enrollments during the meeting. They are:

Global corporation

The board approved Iowa State's request to establish the nonprofit ISU Global Corp., in cooperation with the ISU Foundation, to lease, develop or own facilities in foreign countries as part of the university's international programs. ISU Global would create limited liability entities for specific countries that would operate safely and in compliance with local laws.

The corporation's first proposed project is in the Kamuli district of Uganda, and includes a long-term land lease (about 25 acres) and construction project to consolidate ISU's operations currently at a half dozen locations. The facility will include staff offices, a student dormitory for 48 students, guest rooms for about a dozen visiting faculty and staff, housing for resident managers and their families, recreation areas and a security wall and gate. The estimated cost is $2.5-3 million, funded by private donors via the ISU Foundation. Vice president for business and finance Warren Madden, who said that the corporation presents "a better way to do [international programs] long term," noted that the donor hopes to have this project completed by the summer of 2017.

Residence hall bond sale

The board also approved a $30 million sale of dormitory revenue bonds to partially pay for the Buchanan Hall building 2. The first bond sale for this project (and the Friley dining center renovation project), also in the amount of $30 million, was approved in April.

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State Board of Regents coverage in IIS

Council learns more about staff salaries, numbers

Chief of staff Miles Lackey addressed the Professional and Scientific Council at its Sept. 3 meeting, answering questions about salary and compensation funding for fiscal year 2016. Vice president for human resources Julie Nuter also shared a snapshot of staff growth over the last 10 years.

Military mandate

Lackey said the "significant" cost of the state-mandated Home Base Iowa Certified Higher Academic Military Partner (CHAMP) program -- which assures in-state tuition to veterans and qualified family members -- was one of the funding uncertainties administrators faced when working on the FY16 budget.

"As of May 13, this was projected to be no more than $4.5 million," Lackey said. "We are at $8 million as of August and it will continue to grow at least through Oct. 15."

He said university leaders knew the CHAMP estimate would be difficult to predict, but the projections were "way off" and "very concerning." In response to the growing numbers, Lackey said regents staff are looking at the interpretation of eligibility requirements, which are more flexible at the state level than the federal level.

"Certainly we want to do everything that we possibly can to serve the veterans and provide them with all of the opportunities we can," he said.

Salary adjustments

Lackey said that about 200 individuals received more than the 1 percent increase recommended in the FY16 salary parameters set by administrators in May, and about 135 employees more earned increases greater than 5 percent.

"Relative to the entire institution and the thousands of employees that we have, those numbers are not all that big," Lackey said.

The prospects for any additional increases in the spring look unlikely.

"This is a math problem. Our expenses are out-pacing revenues and consistently, on a per-student basis, we're doing more with less," Lackey said. "What we need now is more revenue. We're fighting to do everything we can to get a state appropriations increase."

Executive compensation

Answering some concerns about President Steven Leath's 5 percent salary increase, Lackey reminded council members that the state Board of Regents sets the salaries of its institution heads based on annual evaluations.

"He does have plans to gift back to the institution in excess of the 5 percent salary increase he's going to be receiving," Lackey said.

Staff numbers

Nuter used headcount data from the ISU Fact Book to show growth in faculty, staff and students over the last 10 years. Since 2005, P&S staff and faculty numbers have grown 17.2 and 9.1 percent, respectively, while enrollment has increased 34.9 percent.

"Obviously, we are serving many more students with a very modest change in P&S and faculty numbers," Nuter said. "It shows, in many ways, the tradition and history of this institution to operate from a very lean perspective. The growth in enrollment means that there are pressures and demands that continue on everybody who is delivering from the education standpoint -- their research, services and so forth."

When Nuter asked council members what they are experiencing as a result of record enrollment growth, some of the answers included:

  • Same number of staff are serving more people
  • Units/departments are fighting for the same resources, such as space needs
  • Position replacements are a hardship, take longer
  • Advisers are overburdened
  • Technology framework is exhausted and maintenance is a problem
  • Extension and outreach is having trouble connecting with busy faculty

Other business

Council members approved a new CYtation award to honor an outstanding new council member. Criteria for nominees include:

  • Reliability and responsibility while making a difference
  • Cooperation with fellow council members
  • Potential for future contributions to ISU
  • Elected or appointed to the council within the last 18 months

The outstanding new council member award joins three existing CYtation awards that all P&S employees are eligible for -- individual, Woodin and team. Anyone can submit award nominations, which are due Dec. 1.

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Campus cafés up their recycling measures

ISU's campus cafés implemented a new recycling program this fall that allows workers to combine glass, plastic and cardboard waste into single, 50-gallon bins. This is good news on two counts: these materials were not being recycled before, and having one bin to dump them in makes workers' jobs a bit easier.

Participating cafés

  • Bookends (Parks Library)
  • Business (Gerdin Business Building)
  • Courtyard (Lagomarcino Hall)
  • Design (College of Design)
  • FROOTS (State Gym)
  • Gentle Doctor (College of Veterinary Medicine)
  • Global (Curtiss Hall)
  • Harvest (Biorenewables Complex)

"This is an important step to take in our cafés to help with the Live Green program," said Christy Eischeid, assistant food service manager. "Plus, having the containers be streamlined -- meaning all three items can be placed into one bin -- helps our program succeed. We do not have a lot of space within our cafés to place several bins."

Also new this semester are blue 32-gallon recycling bins, strategically placed near the cafés, where patrons are encouraged to discard their beverage bottles and cans. Facilities planning and management provided the bins for both projects and picks up the recyclables each week.

Though it's too soon to tell how much waste the programs are diverting from the trash, Eischeid knows it's making a difference.

"It's too early for accurate numbers, but so far it seems to be quite a bit from some locations," she said.

40 never looked so good


Night Garden, computer print, edition 1/175, by Karen Strohbeen. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

The year was 1975. Mood rings and pet rocks were all the rage. Saturday Night Live debuted on television. Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft.  And Iowa State established University Museums.

To commemorate its 40th anniversary, University Museums is hosting "40/40," an exhibition showcasing works of art by Iowa artists, through Dec. 19 at the Brunnier Art Museum. The show includes 80 pieces -- 40 by Iowa artists new to the museums' permanent collection, and 40 new pieces from Iowa artists already featured in the permanent collection.

Begun in the 1920s and 1930s with works from Zenobia Ness, Raymond M. Hughes, Grant Wood and Christian Petersen, the Iowa Artist Collection is one of University Museums' signature collections. Today, it comprises over 2,000 works of art created by more than 150 Iowa artists.

A time to celebrate

University Museums is holding a fundraising reception on Sept. 19 (7-9 p.m., a brief program begins at 8:30 p.m., Brunnier Art Museum) to celebrate the anniversary. Cost is $50 per person at the door. The evening will feature designer desserts, floral creations, a cash bar and live music. Cocktail attire is requested.

The new book, Campus Beautiful: Shaping the Aesthetic Identity of Iowa State University, will be available for purchase. The book is $100 ($75 for University Museums members). Commemorative bookplates also will be available at no cost.

The Brunnier Art Museum is located on the second floor of the Scheman Building. Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 1-4 p.m. There is no cost to attend the "40/40" exhibition, though a $3 donation per visitor is suggested.