Higher ed enrollment numbers are in — and they are mixed

On Thursday, Idaho State University reported an overall fall enrollment decrease of more than 600 students — but graduate enrollment and transfer numbers increased. (Idaho State University photo.)

(UPDATED, 1:17 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23, with additional data from Boise State.)

For months, Idaho colleges and universities have feared the worst.

As the coronavirus pandemic began to spread across the nation and into Idaho, national experts predicted a catastrophic drop in college and university enrollment — decreases in the 20 percent range. Universities drew up worst-case budget scenarios to weather the storm.

It didn’t come.

This week’s enrollment numbers are instead a mixed bag of increases and decreases.

Boise State University

Overall, the state’s largest university reported an enrollment decline — mainly because fewer high school students are enrolling in dual-credit Boise State courses. However, the number of degree-seeking students on campus increased slightly.

“Our university community worked together brilliantly to offer our students a unique, relevant and high-quality college experience this fall, in spite of the special challenges all of higher education has faced,” Boise State President Marlene Tromp said in a news release Thursday. “Though the budget concerns produced by COVID continue, I am incredibly proud of the resilient nature of this university, and I am pleased that so many students and families have placed their trust in us to empower them to create their best future.”

The on-campus numbers are in line with projections. For weeks, Boise State has said enrollment would remain flat or increase slightly.

Here are the key numbers.

The dual-credit dropoff. Overall, Boise State reported enrollment of 24,103, an 8.3 percent decrease. But most of that decrease can be traced to dual credit.

“The pandemic has disrupted high school calendars, and a number of dual-credit classes have been pushed later into the year,” said Mark Wheeler, dean of Boise State’s Division of Extended Studies. “As of right now, we have 3,630 dual-credit students enrolled — but that’s 37 percent fewer than last year on this date.“

Idaho is spending $20 million this year on its advanced opportunities program, which allows high school students to take college-level courses for free. This is a linchpin of Idaho’s campaign to boost postsecondary completion rates, and the program has inflated higher ed headcounts. Dual-credit students are not full-time college students, their numbers count toward enrollment.

Earlier this week, the University of Idaho also reported sharp dual-credit declines, accounting for most of its enrollment decrease. The U of I reported a 9.5 percent enrollment drop, but full-time on-campus enrollment fell by only 3 percent.

Campus enrollment. All told, 19,930 degree-seeking students arrived on campus this fall, up .5 percent over last year. This breaks down to 16,975 undergraduate students and 2,955 graduate students.

Over the past five years, Boise State’s number of doctoral students has nearly doubled, while enrollment in master’s programs has increased by 16 percent.

Students of color. Boise State said 4,513 of its degree-seeking students are students of color. That represents 22.6 percent of the student body, and a slight increase from 22.1 percent a year ago.

The freshman class. First-year, first-time Idaho student enrollment dropped this year. That number came in at 1,441, down from 1,630 a year ago.

Idaho State University

Fall enrollment is down by 5 percent at Idaho State University — also due, mostly, to a dual-credit dropoff.

Idaho State officials have been bracing for a dropoff for months. The overall fall number came in at 11,786, compared to 12,425 a year ago.

“The COVID-19 pandemic changed everything, but throughout all of the uncertainty and adjustments to our operations, we have remained focused on our mission of education,” President Kevin Satterlee said in a news release Thursday. “We know COVID-19 impacted our fall enrollment, and we will continue to provide a safe learning environment for our students in the spring.”

Here’s a closer look at some key ISU numbers:

Dual credit. A decrease of 430, accounting for more than two-thirds of ISU’s overall enrollment decline. Taking these dual-credit numbers out of the equation, ISU’s overall enrollment fell by just 2.1 percent.

Undergrads and grad students. ISU’s undergraduate enrollment tailed off by 7.5 percent, while grad school enrollment increased by 6.9 percent. This is consistent with initial national findings on undergraduate and graduate enrollment.

Transfer students. A growth area. Transfers from within the state increased by 2.9 percent and out-of-state transfer students increased by 41.7 percent.

Minority students. Numbers decreased across most demographic lines. Latino student enrollment totaled 1,390, a 2.8 percent decrease, and American Indian and Alaskan Native enrollment totaled 171, down 3.4 percent.

The freshman class. ISU enrolled 1,216 first-time, in-state undergrads this fall, a decrease of 110 students, or 8.3 percent.

Lewis-Clark State College

Lewis-Clark State College’s slight enrollment increase defied trends at the four-year universities.

Fall enrollment came in at 3,856, up from 3,748 a year ago.

These numbers can be explained by an increase in dual credit. Lewis-Clark added more than 200 dual-credit students this fall. Taking this dual-credit spike out of the equation, Lewis-Clark’s enrollment dropped from a year ago.

First-time, first-year Idaho student enrollments came in flat, spokesman Logan Fowler said Thursday. Latino student enrollment numbers increased slightly, from 292 to 299. American Indian enrollment numbers dropped from 115 to 92.

About Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on KIVI 6 On Your Side; "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television; and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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