A recent faculty report states that the university is growing too fast for its own good.
With the Fall 2016 semester underway, Iowa State University boasts yet another semester of record enrollment with a reported 36,660 students, an increase of 659 students from last year’s record breaker and a nearly 40 percent increase in enrollment since 2004.
Iowa State President Steven Leath called upon faculty members to analyze the effects of the school’s rapid increase in admissions last spring. The resulting report, published in June, had one major theme: the record growth is no longer sustainable.
The 12-page report links an overcrowded campus to an increase in class sizes and much larger student-faculty ratio as well as decreases in available classes, study spaces, and even classrooms and buildings.
Sarah Etheridge, 20, junior in performing arts, has noticed some of the claustrophobic consequences.
“Parks [Library] is always way too full to study during the day,” says Etheridge, “and I don’t think I have a class under 30 people.”
Dr. Jonathan Sturm, professor in the College of Music and chair of the enrollment task force, has seen the effects of a growing student body for himself.
“I was on the faculty when ISU enrolled about 27,000 students,” Sturm says, “But as enrollments grew past 35,000 we realized our infrastructure and number of faculty was losing ground to the incoming student population, and we began to worry about sustaining the quality of education we provide and also the ability of faculty to sustain dramatically increased teaching responsibilities while continuing to produce world-class research.”
One critical factor of unsustainability is funding. The Iowa Board of Regents, the governing body of Iowa’s public universities, distributes public funds based on a per-resident-student basis. Iowa State tops both the University of Iowa (SUI) and the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) in resident enrollment with 21,064 Iowa students compared to SUI’s 17,531 and UNI’s 10,549.
While more Iowa students choose Iowa State than any other public university, it hasn’t translated to more funding. In the Fall 2015, SUI received $15,474 per resident student enrolled. UNI received $10,255. Iowa State only received $9,120 per resident student; money that could be used to grow infrastructure and hire additional faculty.
In order to combat overcrowding and underfunding, the task force found three solutions. The first is to increase admission standards in the university. The second is to increase in-state and out-of-state tuition costs to increase funding. The third is to implement differential tuition, or different tuition costs for the different Colleges in the university.
Raising tuition costs is already an unpopular opinion for the present student body. Last summer, the Board of Regents approved an additional $250 hike for the current school year after extensive increases last December. The figure was brought down from a previously proposed $300 increase after heavy student backlash.
While President Leath has not yet adopted any of the suggestions in the report, faculty and students have made it clear that changes need to be made.
“It just seems irresponsible for the school to let it get this far,” says Etheridge.
Sturm is optimistic in the schools about the school’s future going forward.
“This moment in time requires all of us—faculty, staff, students, administration and the board—to reflect carefully, to weigh the pros and cons, and to move forward as a collective team with care and awareness of how strategies and plans are evolving and impacting our university and its community of scholars and students.”