Fall and Winter 2020 Student Outcomes, Spring Semester Enrollment, Fall 2021 Planning (SVPP COVID-19 Communication #24)

Date:              February 8, 2021

To:                  Iowa State University Faculty

From:             Jonathan Wickert, Senior Vice President and Provost

Subject:         Fall and Winter 2020 Student Outcomes, Spring Semester Enrollment, Fall 2021 Planning (SVPP COVID-19 Communication #24)


With the spring semester now underway, it is an appropriate time to reflect on the fall semester and Winter Session, and to look ahead to the summer and fall.

First though – ISU face covering requirement still in effect

The statewide COVID-19 mitigation strategy may periodically change. Iowa State University continues to require face coverings on campus, just as was the case in the fall.

Our requirement extends to university classrooms, laboratories, public and communal work areas, libraries, dining centers and residential spaces, and all other learning spaces. Face coverings are also required on all other university property whenever physical distancing is not possible, and strongly encouraged in the greater community. Students were recently reminded through an announcement in Canvas that the requirement remains in effect.

Solid student academic performance in the fall

A significant amount of attention has been given, at the national and local levels, to the academic performance of students during the pandemic. I am pleased to report that the academic standing of Iowa State’s undergraduate students in Fall 2020 was consistent with previous semesters: 89.6% of undergraduates were in good academic standing at the end of Fall 2020, compared with 88.5% after Fall 2019, and 87.6% after Fall 2018.

Letter grade distribution in Fall 2020 was also consistent with our experience from previous semesters. In 78.3% of cases, undergraduates earned a grade of C or better in all of their courses, compared to 77.5% in Fall 2019, and 76.8% in Fall 2018.

When combined with the record retention rate set last fall with 88.5% of first-year students returning for a second year at Iowa State, notwithstanding the disruptions of last spring, these results reflect the incredible efforts made by faculty and staff to support students’ academic and individual needs.

Winter Session wrap-up

Iowa State’s pilot Winter Session was a success by virtually any measure. Students had the opportunity to work ahead on their degree programs during the longer-than-normal break, and in some cases, will be able to graduate earlier than originally planned. Faculty rose to the challenge of creating and delivering accelerated versions of courses while maintaining learning outcomes. And colleges appreciated the opportunity to generate additional tuition revenue during an otherwise challenging fiscal year.

In all, 2,100 students enrolled in 51 courses, with participation from each of the academic undergraduate colleges. The course with the largest enrollment of 186 students was Library 160. Other offerings with more than 65 students include courses in Mathematics, Human Development and Family Studies, Classical Studies, Construction Engineering, and Biology.

Looking at enrollment by classification and residency, 72% of students were juniors or seniors, and 28% were freshmen or sophomores. Seniors represented 45% of the total enrollment. Resident students accounted for 65% of enrollment, compared to 32% for nonresidents, and 2.5% for international students.

I want to particularly acknowledge the excellent and creative teamwork by the Registrar’s Office, Student Financial Aid, Information Technology, and Accounts Receivable, among many others. These colleagues put in substantial work, often behind the scenes, to make the session possible, and to help it run smoothly.

Will we do it again?  A regular Winter Session would involve, first and foremost, making multiple interconnected changes to the academic calendar. We are currently developing and analyzing options in collaboration with academic colleges, Faculty Senate, and the Board of Regents.

Spring enrollment

As another indicator of academic continuity, spring semester enrollment of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students combined has exceeded by 212 students the budgeted enrollment projection. Likewise, we exceeded the budgeted enrollment projection last fall, and $3.6M in additional tuition revenue was generated by instruction in the new Winter Session.  These outcomes speak to strong collaboration and innovation by our Enrollment Management team, academic colleges, the Division of Student Affairs, and many others across campus.

Looking to the fall

While the spring semester may have just begun, and much uncertainty remains around vaccinations and the pandemic’s course of events, we are already looking toward the summer and fall with a view of “returning to a new normal” on-campus experience for instruction, research, employee work, and events.  Our planning will continue to be based on best health practices and—necessarily—on multiple assumptions about the future, most notably the broad availability and use of COVID-19 vaccinations.

The summer session will be a bridge between our operations in the spring and fall semesters, with many current COVID-19 mitigations remaining in place, and with others adjusted to enhance student learning and engagement opportunities, and to facilitate the work of faculty and staff.  That said, vigilance will be a key to our success, and we will make changes as necessary as we continue planning in the months ahead. 

I ask that department chairs share this information with graduate student instructors and teaching assistants.