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Students are slowly starting to come back and enroll at Utah’s public colleges this year after a significant drop last fall in the face of the pandemic.

Even with losses continuing at some schools, the total headcount across the system rebounded by 3,000, according to numbers released by the state Monday. There are now 192,102 students total in higher education here.

“We’ve come out of a challenging year,” said Dave Woolstenhulme, the commissioner who oversees the state’s universities, “and I am pleased that enrollments have increased overall.”

The number is up from 189,021 last year, when the system lost 330 students. That was the first decline in at least a decade. And it had administrators worried about access for low-income students, with the impact hitting the hardest at the cheapest and most diverse schools in the state.

Salt Lake Community College saw the largest decline then, losing more than 2,000 students last year. It dropped again this year, but not by as much. It had 68 fewer students enroll than in 2020, a change of just a quarter of a percentage. SLCC has a total of 27,225 students.

Meanwhile, the college has the highest ratio of students who work while earning their degrees of any school in the state. And it has the second lowest tuition (at $3,632 per year, just $15 more than the cheapest, Snow College).

“We believe our students have been deeply impacted by the pandemic, and many are finding it necessary to focus their efforts on work and family during this time,” said SLCC spokeswoman Erika Shubin.

Utah State University also saw a dip, with 265 fewer students than last fall. That continues, though, an ongoing trend for the school in Logan, which has had smaller declines for the past few years.

Those are the only schools that had decreases this year. Last year, four of the eight public colleges and universities — or half of those in the state — did.

While the improved numbers are a welcome sign, they’re not quite back to pre-pandemic levels yet. In 2019, for instance, the higher education system in the state saw an additional 5,402 students enroll. That’s an average year.

This article is published through the Utah News Collaborative, a partnership of news organizations in Utah that aim to inform readers across the state.To read the full article, click here.

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