A season of opportunity for Idaho students

This fall on campus I met a Vandal freshman hailing from the Boise area. A good student in high school, and clearly a thoughtful young man, he’d applied for the University of Idaho last spring during a period when we’d temporarily waived our application fee. He told me he would not have applied if that $60 had been required – that cash just wasn’t on hand. There is a very good chance he would be at home right now instead of at college.

President Chuck Staben portraits
University of Idaho President Chuck Staben

Too many students are in his shoes, and I want to make sure all students, especially Idaho students, can access higher education. Accordingly, this fall UI eliminated our application fee for Idaho residents. Application fees offer revenue many institutions, ours included, rely on. But at a time when many families must think very carefully about expenditures, and given our state’s goals for changing our college-going culture, I’m wary of limiting access to higher education. An outstanding academic experience at an affordable price shouldn’t be denied to a talented student but for $60. We’ll forego that application fee revenue, usually over $200,000 per year, if it eliminates a barrier for students.

Last year UI helped lead our state’s “direct admissions” initiative, offering automatic admission to public higher education institutions for qualified high school seniors. In September public high school seniors from across the state received letters from the state board of education, notifying them of their automatic admission to public colleges and universities. We’re following up with communications about UI and asking students to complete the admission process at www.uidaho.edu/apply, so that we can save their spot and follow up with financial aid information. I’m glad we’ve been able to communicate more quickly and effectively to students, families, and educators about this new process. This program expresses the belief that Idaho students are ready to “go on” to college, and we are ready to help them succeed.

Direct admissions is just one of a number of tweaks to the college admissions process that will make the experience easier to understand and complete. The federal government has implemented a change in the way the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or “FAFSA” is offered. Beginning October 1, all U.S. citizens can now use last year’s taxes to determine financial aid eligibility – no more waiting until a family’s spring tax filing. (This process is sometimes described as “early FAFSA” or “prior-prior year” reporting.) More than half of UI students receive federal financial aid.

Because FAFSA information is available earlier, UI has advanced its priority date for financial aid to December 1. Out-of-state students who have completed the application process and Idaho students who have saved their spots at www.uidaho.edu/apply will receive notice of financial aid awards as soon as mid-December. UI gave $11 million in total scholarship support to Idaho residents this year, making our institution the leading provider of aid in the state. A high school senior or a transfer student will now have the holidays to consider their options for a higher education experience that works for their interests and their budget.

At UI, we talk a lot about access and affordability because we believe more students should go to college. Higher education continues to offer outstanding return on investment. More than 90 percent of jobs created since the recession have gone to students with at least some college. For most people – and for many more Idahoans than currently “go on” to college – higher education is their best choice to prepare them for a good job and a great life.

Too many students have too much potential to just stay home. We’re making sure our admissions and financial aid processes back up that belief – we’re putting our money where our mouth is. With the help of educators across Idaho, I know our efforts will be a winning investment in the bright future of students and in the future prosperity of our state.

Written by University of Idaho President Chuck Staben.