A fall flourish: Idaho universities report enrollment increases

Students walk across campus between classes at Idaho State University. (Photo courtesy Idaho State University.)

Idaho’s three universities all reported enrollment increases for the fall — growth that nearly erases their pandemic-driven losses from 2020.

The four-year schools turned in their fall numbers to the State Board of Education this week.

The rebound comes at a pivotal moment for Idaho higher education. From fall 2019 through spring 2021, the state’s four-year and two-year colleges lost more than 5,000 students. That translated to an 8.7% drop — and it has an impact on young adults but also on the colleges and universities. As higher education receives a shrinking share of the state budget, colleges and universities rely on tuition and fees to cover an increasing share of their costs.

Here are thumbnails from Idaho’s four-year schools.

Boise State University

Fall enrollment came in at 25,829, a 7.2% increase.

By comparison, fall enrollment dropped by 8.3% a year ago.

President Marlene Tromp hailed the rebound. “Boise State has consistently found new ways to reach students, meet industry needs, and positively impact our state, often in ways that serve as a national model,” she said in a late Wednesday afternoon news release.

Here’s what happened this year, in several areas:

First-year students: 3,203, an 11.6% increase.

Graduate enrollment: 3,068, a 3.8% increase and a university record.

Instruction mode: In all, 83.6% of undergrads and 48.8% of graduate students are taking at least one in-person class.

A year ago, those numbers were 71% and 40%, respectively.

Out-of-state enrollment: Unavailable. A year ago, Boise State officials said a spike in out-of-state enrollment helped offset a decline in in-state enrollment.

Dual-credit enrollment: Also unavailable.

In 2020, Boise State attributed much of its overall enrollment decline to a dropoff in dual credit. That wasn’t unique to Boise State. As high school students wrestled with pandemic uncertainties — and often a mix between in-person and online instruction — many of them decided against taking college-level courses.

University of Idaho

Overall enrollment: 11,303, a 4.7% increase from the previous year.

In 2020, the U of I had absorbed a fall enrollment decrease of 9.5%.

“We are energized by the enrollment increase, especially considering the challenges of the pandemic,” President Scott Green said in a news release.

A closer look at the U of I’s numbers:

First-year students: The U of I attracted its largest freshman class in five years: 1,656 students in all.

That’s a 16.2% increase from last year, but it was driven in large part by out-of-state enrollment. In-state first year enrollment increased by 5.2%.

Out-of-state undergraduate enrollment: 465, up 10.6%. “Our current student mix is changing rapidly,” said Dean Kahler, vice provost for strategic enrollment management. “Our marketing and price point are resonating with the out-of-state market.”

Graduate enrollment: 1,947, up 8.2%.

Hispanic enrollment: Up by 8.5%, essentially returning to pre-pandemic levels.

Dual-credit enrollment: 1,641, up 19.9%.

Returning students: First-year student retention fell by 2.2%.

Idaho State University

Overall enrollment came in at 12,157.

This is a 3.2% increase, erasing much of a 5% dropoff a year ago.

More metrics:

First-year students: Up by 10.7%, contributing to Idaho State’s first year-to-year increase in undergraduate enrollment in nearly a decade.

“We are turning the corner on years of enrollment declines,” President Kevin Satterlee said in a news release. “This shows the impact of, and the importance of, the retention and recruitment efforts we have been making across the campus.”

The geographic mix: Out-of-state students account for a relatively large share of the fall enrollment increase. Out-of-state enrollment climbed by 7.8%.

Graduate enrollment: Up for the fourth successive year. Idaho State’s 2,326 graduate students represent a 5.6% increase.

Dual-credit enrollment: 2,911, up 15.6%.

Lewis-Clark State College

After bucking the pandemic trends, and attracting a slight enrollment increase last fall, overall numbers fell by 3.8% this year.

But current enrollment, 3,710, is up from pre-pandemic numbers from three years ago.

Other metrics:

First-year students: 1,324, up 1%.

Hispanic enrollment: Up 7.1%.

The geographic mix: While Lewis-Clark continues to draw most of its students from Idaho, out-of-state enrollment grew by 3% and international enrollment climbed by 53%.

“The increase in international enrollment is very encouraging as it may mark a return to more normal international enrollment patterns,” President Cynthia Pemberton said in a news release. “The non-resident increase is also encouraging as it means word about LC State’s accessibility, affordability, and quality is spreading beyond Idaho’s border.”

More reading: “Missing Students,” Idaho Education News’ in-depth, multimedia series on higher education enrollment in the pandemic. Look for a followup to the project later this fall.



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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