No vacancy? Housing crunch could hamper Boise State enrollment

Boise State University is hoping for strong fall enrollment.

But some factors are beyond the university’s control — such as a superheated Treasure Valley housing market. A shortage of on-campus housing and a scarcity of affordable off-campus options could keep some potential students from showing up this fall.

“We’ve heard from some very vocal parents,” said Kris Collins, Boise State’s associate vice president for enrollment services.

Boise State officials won’t know what enrollment really looks like for several more weeks. Fall classes don’t begin until Aug. 22. And from there, it’s usually several weeks before the four-year schools wrap up their fall numbers.

However, the signs seem promising. Applications and admissions spiked early, although those numbers have since tapered off, Collins said.

Boise State expects an increase in in-state admissions, Collins said. One possible reason: This year, in-state students were given preference for Boise State’s scarce housing spots.

That scarcity isn’t new; in 2020, Boise State began working with a consulting group, which identified a need for an additional 738 beds for students. And the problem won’t go away overnight. In October, the State Board of Education approved a 450-bed, $4.5 million first-year residence hall, but Boise State doesn’t expect to open another dormitory before the fall of 2025.

Meanwhile, another troubling trend continues to affect Boise State’s enrollment. Idaho’s college go-on rate remains in a free fall, dropping to only 37% last spring. This rate has dropped by 13 percentage points in four years, and Collins says she can see a link between this plunge and Boise State’s enrollment. That was the case last fall, when a majority of Boise State’s first-year students came from out of state for the first time in school history.

“That was because our Idaho students didn’t show up,” Collins said.

This fall, Boise State expects a majority of its first-year students to come from Idaho.

About that State Board enrollment study …

In an interview last week, Collins talked about a State Board of Education report on long-range demographic trends and their implications for Idaho universities.

One surprise, she said, is Boise State’s footprint in the Treasure Valley. About 80% of Boise State’s in-state students come from the Treasure Valley — a number so high that university officials double-checked it after the report came out.

The State Board report said the Treasure Valley’s growth is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it gives Boise State a vibrant local recruiting base. On the other hand, Treasure Valley newcomers might not have a baked-in affinity to Boise State, so they might not be as inclined to attend their local university.

The State Board report pointed to another challenge for Boise State: A disproportionate share of its West Coast student recruits are white, a demographic group that is likely to shrink in the years to come.

This forecast wasn’t a surprise, Collins said. And Boise State is looking to step up its recruiting of Latino students, in Idaho and out of state.

One key to recruiting Latino students, wherever they live, is to use word of mouth and a personal touch. Latino students want to feel like they’re part of a community, Collins said.

“Slick marketing campaigns aren’t what they’re looking for.”

Kevin Richert

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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