A turnaround? Idaho college enrollment increases

Idaho’s college go-on numbers have dropped, but the state’s college enrollment keeps trending upward.

Nearly 99,300 students attended Idaho colleges and universities this fall, according to a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Idaho’s numbers defy national trends. Fall enrollment increased in only 11 states and the District of Columbia. Idaho’s enrollment increased by 2.5 percent, and only New Hampshire and Utah experienced a more robust increase. Nationally, college enrollment dropped by 1.4 percent, coming in at slightly below 18.7 million.

The National Student Clearinghouse numbers put Idaho’s enrollment into context, but Idaho’s increase comes as no surprise. Boise State University’s enrollment hit a new record this fall, while the University of Idaho recorded its first enrollment increase since 2012. And 5,712 Idaho high school graduates went straight to college this fall, a 6.7 percent increase.

State Board Meeting3
The State Board of Education has made college attendance its top priority since 2010.

Idaho’s State Board of Education has made college enrollment its top priority since the start of the decade. The National Student Clearinghouse report suggests the state is pointed in the right direction, board spokesman Blake Youde said Tuesday.

State superintendent Sherri Ybarra said she wants to go over the report with her staff. “We will review this report as time is permitted to gain a better understanding of its findings,” Ybarra said in a statement Tuesday.

It’s too early to know whether the fall enrollment numbers represent a turnaround in Idaho’s languid go-on numbers. Those numbers have decreased — even as the state’s education, political and business leaders have emphasized the importance of postsecondary education.

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Only 46 percent of Idaho’s high school class of 2015 had enrolled in a postsecondary program, according to State Board of Education statistics released in October. A year earlier, the “go-on” rate was 52 percent.

This decrease makes it even less likely that Idaho will meet its centerpiece education milestone — the much-discussed “60 percent goal.” Idaho wants 60 percent of its 25- to 34-year-olds to hold some form of postsecondary degree, by 2020. Even supporters call the 2020 deadline ambitious. Barring a dramatic turnaround, the 2020 deadline appears unattainable.

However, education leaders believe the state has launched several initiatives that will boost its college completion rates.

One initiative is in its second year: the State Board’s “direct admission” program. Qualified high school seniors and their parents receive letters from the State Board, saying they are assured a spot in some or all of the state’s colleges and universities. By taking the guesswork out of the application process, the State Board hopes to encourage seniors to continue their education in Idaho.

Last week, State Board members heard a progress report on the first year of direct admission program. (To read the report, click on this link and scroll to tab 4 in the board meeting packet.) The State Board sent out nearly 20,600 letters to graduating seniors last fall. When 5,712 of these students enrolled in Idaho’s colleges and universities, this translated to an increase in 358 students.

The State Board believes the letters encouraged students to take a closer look at Idaho’s colleges and universities, based on survey results from April. Seventy-two percent of respondents said they were considering out-of-state colleges before receiving the state’s letter; after the letters went out, that number dropped to 52 percent.

A second round of direct admissions letters went out to this year’s graduating seniors. But this is only one of the state’s efforts to boost college enrollment, Youde said. Idaho has put additional taxpayer money into high school counselors and dual-credit classes for high school students, and allows high school juniors to take the SAT at the state’s expense.

“You’re starting to see the return on the investment, when you put all of those factors together,” he said.