An evolving profile: Boise State’s out-of-state student surge continues

For the first time in its 89-year history, a majority of Boise State University’s first-year undergraduate students have come from outside Idaho.

Enrollment continues to evolve at the state’s largest university — as Boise State’s price point helps attract out-of-state students, while many students in rural Idaho continue to sit out the pandemic.

“Idaho’s go-on rate, which is already one of the lowest in the nation, was negatively impacted by the pandemic, like states across the country with large rural populations,” Boise State President Marlene Tromp said.

What happened at Boise State this fall isn’t new. In 2020, an uptick in out-of-state enrollment helped to offset a pandemic-driven dropoff in Idaho enrollment.

And the same enrollment trends are playing out across Idaho’s higher education system. Idaho’s other four-year schools all reported increases in out-of-state enrollment this fall, helping the University of Idaho and Idaho State University erase some of their losses in student numbers from 2020.

Out-of-state enrollment is helping Idaho universities recover from pandemic-related enrollment losses — and is helping with the schools’ balance sheet, since these students pay higher tuition costs. But for years, Idaho’s education, political and business leaders have been pushing to encourage the state’s high school graduates to continue their education, to little avail.

At Boise State, resident student numbers have been dropping since at least 2017 — and in all categories:

Category Residents percentage, 2017 Residents percentage, 2021
First-time undergraduates 55.2% 47.4%
Undergraduates, transfers 65.3% 51.7%
Undergraduates, total 74.9% 67.1%
Graduate students, total 65.3% 57.0%


The surge in out-of-state admissions is not squeezing out Idaho students. Boise State says it still has space for any in-state student who meets the university’s admissions requirements.

But getting those students to show is the lingering challenge, and one that has forced Boise State to rethink its financial aid strategy.

“We have significantly modified our scholarship protocols to direct even more resources to in-state students and to special populations like rural students, rather than simply providing scholarships based on merit alone,” Tromp said. “With this additional support, we hope to encourage Idaho student attendance.”

And while affordability is an obstacle for many in-state students, affordability is a selling point for out-of-state students — who find Boise State a relative bargain, even at nonresident tuition and fees.

Boise State froze its nonresident fees at $22,452 this fall — partly in hopes of keeping out-of-state students on campus. Resident undergraduate fees are $8,068, after two successive years of freezes.

While Boise State and Idaho’s other four-year schools are hoping to attract more in-state students to campus, Tromp said out-of-state recruiting pays long-term economic dividends as well.

“About 68 percent of Boise State University graduates stay in Idaho after graduation, where they benefit the state’s economy by filling desperately needed roles in fields, including education, nursing and engineering.”

More reading: Click here to read our in-depth series from June, “Missing Students: Higher Ed’s Enrollment Crisis.”

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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