Fewer students are attending Iowa State University this fall than did a year ago, according to enrollment data released by the Ames institution.

A total of 33,391 undergraduate and graduate students are enrolled at the school this fall, 4% fewer than a year ago. 

This is the third straight year of enrollment declines at ISU. The declines follow eight years of growth, during which time ISU’s enrollment surpassed that of the University of Iowa. The rapid growth caused large class sizes and grumbling among students about the inability to take classes needed to graduate.

Now the university “is taking steps to maintain a healthy enrollment and make sure we have the right mix of students,” said Laura Doering, ISU’s associate vice president for enrollment management and student success. "We know that more doesn’t necessarily mean better. It is really finding that enrollment range where we feel we can deliver a quality education to students.”

University officials are developing a five-year strategic enrollment plan that will include such things as the balance between in-state and out-of-state students, those from community colleges, and international students. Doering said officials haven't reached an ideal enrollment number.

Several things are contributing to the enrollment decline, including a drop in the number of international students attending U.S. universities as well as a drop in students transferring from Iowa’s community colleges, Doering said. This year, 16% fewer community college students transferred to ISU compared with the previous years. 

Last fall, 34,992 students were enrolled at Iowa State, Iowa Board of Regents’ enrollment data shows. In 2017-18, 35,993 students attended ISU; and in 2016-17, 36,660.

This year’s enrollment includes 5,597 freshmen; 5,339 transfer students; and 3,198 international students.