Idaho reports a higher ed enrollment surge — but not exactly

Idaho tallied the largest higher ed enrollment increase in the nation from 2010 to 2020, according to a newly released report.

But there are two big asterisks. Idaho’s dual-credit explosion skews the numbers. So does the rapidly growing College of Western Idaho.

So, no, there was no big surge in enrollment on the state’s campuses — some uptick in students who had somehow gone unnoticed or unreported.

In its latest report, “Trends In College Pricing,” the College Board holds up Idaho as an enrollment high flier. Enrollment at the state’s two- and four-year colleges increased by 16% over the decade ending in 2020. That increase topped the nation, and it wasn’t even that close; Utah and Texas followed with increases of 6%.

But the report doesn’t explain the source of Idaho’s enrollment surge.

The State Board of Education attributes the increase to dual credit enrollment. Under the state’s Advanced Opportunities program, high school students get a $4,125 allowance that they can use to take college courses.

Using a different set of numbers — covering a different timeframe than the College Board’s study — the State Board quantified the dual-credit growth this week. Enrollment increased by a whopping 253% over the past decade, ending with the 2021-22 school year, State Board chief research officer Cathleen McHugh said. And even though dual-credit students are not full-fledged, degree-seeking students, the colleges and universities count their dual-credit students as part of their enrollment.

CWI is a factor as well. While the college launched in 2007, it was not accredited until 2016. So that timing skewed the 10-year enrollment report, College Board spokesman Jose Rios said Wednesday.

The State Board touted another finding from the College Board report — although this one wasn’t too big a surprise.

This year, in-state tuition at Idaho’s four-year schools ranked sixth-lowest in the nation, at $8,178. Adjusted for inflation, Idaho’s tuition has decreased 5.8% over the past five years.

“Getting a college education at an Idaho public institution is a great bargain,” State Board President Kurt Liebich said in a news release. “The College Board ranking is due to the belt-tightening occurring on all of our campuses as a result of the tuition freeze enacted by the State Board three years ago.”


Kevin Richert

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 "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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