On Tuesday, Dec. 9, ISU President Deborah Curtis sent out a message to all students regarding the ongoing enrollment issue, stating that “We have 9,662 wonderful students in the current semester — not including 246 dual-credit students — down 8.7% from Spring 2020. Nationally, first-time enrollments dropped almost 14% for four-year public universities from Fall 2019 to Fall 2020”.

Curtis also explained how this significant drop in enrollment has been affecting the ISU budget. She states that “With a lot of hard work, we have every confidence that we will finish the current fiscal year (FY21) with a net in operations, as we have in every fiscal year. We ask that budget managers continue to do the excellent job they have been doing since last July in controlling spending and keeping vacant positions open as long as possible. Budgeting for FY22 is our bigger challenge. During these unprecedented times, it is difficult to predict enrollment until the state and country have moved on from this terrible pandemic. In the meantime, our legislative leaders are working hard to craft a state budget that, we hope and anticipate, will continue to be so supportive of higher education. We know enrollment is trending lower nationally. State support won’t be settled by the legislature until late spring.”

It is no surprise that the pandemic has played a major role in the decline of college enrollment, which has declined 2.5% overall in Fall 2020 nationwide, being twice the rate of decline reported in Fall 2019. Another factor of the decline in enrollment would likely be the prioritization of immediate work over higher education, not being able to afford higher education during the pandemic, and cancellations of testing required to get into college for high schoolers – forcing them to postpone college plans, or look elsewhere for alternative career plans.

Curtis reassures students in her message that “[They] are preparing budget modifications with several scenarios” and that “Everyone’s priority will be to keep as many people employed as possible.” She adds that “The University Budget Committee met Monday and will meet again at least two more times in the coming months. Vice Presidents are working with their respective divisions and Interim Provost Christopher Olsen is working with deans to identify potential budget reductions. During this process, we’re grateful for the Faculty Senate’s collaboration on strategies and the thoughtful engagement from the Staff Council and the Student Government Association.”

With much more students living off-campus this semester, and prioritizing employment (and safety) more now than ever, it’s clear that students want education that is accessible from home, and that a traditional college experience is not safe, nor accessible right now. Curtis states that “We will continue to serve the first-time, full-time student, but we must be inclusive of the needs of citizens in our state. Non-traditional students may not be looking for a traditional on-campus experience. They will likely value the rich experience of an ISU education, learning from our tremendous faculty, but only if we make it accessible and fulfilling. We will continue to keep the campus updated on the budget. This continues to be a fluid environment. Meanwhile, everyone can participate in our preparation for the future by getting involved in the strategic planning process. That will guide us as ISU adapts and grows and, as always, educates and inspires students.”