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Early Numbers Suggest an Enrollment Surge in Higher Education

Nothing is final until August, but Idaho’s colleges and universities could be poised for an enrollment boost.

Applications and admissions are up — and those numbers could translate into more students on campus for 2022-23.

Enrollment is a key piece of the financial puzzle for Idaho’s colleges and universities, which pay their bills through a combination of state dollars and tuition and fees. Enrollment declined across Idaho’s higher education system at the outset of the pandemic, mirroring widespread dropoffs across the nation. The four-year schools erased much of their pandemic losses last fall.

Here’s an early look ahead to the fall of 2022:

Boise State University

The state’s largest university uses an “intent to enroll” metric — counting the number of admitted students who send in a $100 deposit. It’s still refundable until next week, and registration doesn’t start until June.

But compared to this time last year, an additional 300 Idaho students have sent in a deposit, a 25% increase.

A spike in Idaho students would reverse the recent trend at Boise State: an influx of out-of-state students. Last fall, for the first time in Boise State’s history, a majority of first-year students came from outside Idaho.

In order to make space for a possible surge in in-state students, Boise State is tightening up on its admission standards for nonresident students. In the past, out-of-state students with a 3.4 GPA could attend Boise State through the Western Undergraduate Exchange, a cooperate that caps tuition at 150% of in-state costs. This year, Boise State increased this GPA requirement to 3.9 — to the dismay of some seniors.

“It’s been a little painful, obviously,” said Kris Collins, Boise State’s associate vice president for enrollment services.

Boise State hasn’t changed admissions requirements for in-state applicants.

One big concern for applicants — and one potential obstacle to fall enrollment — is housing.

In Boise’s pricey rental market, affordable off-campus options are scarce. And while the four four-year schools are freezing in-state tuition again this fall, there’s nothing Boise State can do about rising housing costs.

Boise State gave in-state students a three-hour window to apply for dorm space this spring — a presale of sorts, before out-of-state students could apply. But dorm space remains limited, and the earliest a new dorm will open is the fall of 2025, said Edward Whipple, Boise State’s interim vice president for student affairs.

University of Idaho

President C. Scott Green reported some big numbers to the State Board of Education last week: Applications are up 34% from a year ago, and admissions are up 18%.

The U of I won’t release detailed numbers, but vice provost for strategic enrollment management Dean Kahler pointed to a couple of positive trends. In-state applications are improving — and the U of I’s comparatively small international student sector is showing signs of a comeback.

Kahler acknowledges that inflation could be an obstacle, as admitted students decide whether to enroll. That’s why an in-state undergraduate tuition freeze, intact for a third consecutive year, is an important drawing card.

But two years after the start of the pandemic, campus tours are at a record high, and Kahler said he is hearing fewer questions and concerns about enrolling for face-to-face instruction.

“People feel very confident,” Kahler said this week.

Idaho State University

Fall applications are up nearly 18% from the previous year. Admissions are up by 19%.

In both cases, this translates to an increase of nearly 850 prospective students — increases President Kevin Satterlee attributes to increased recruiting efforts. “They feel like they’re bearing fruit at the moment,” Satterlee told the State Board last week.

Satterlee hopes that the recruiting efforts will translate into a 2% to 3% enrollment increase, and that would be on par with this year’s 3.2% increase. But as Satterlee noted last week, the 2021 enrollment increase came after nearly a decade of declines, so any increase this fall would be welcome.

Lewis-Clark State College

Fall applications are up nearly 20% and admissions are up 13%. The number of fall applicants already enrolled for classes is also up, by nearly 9%.

Unlike Idaho’s four-year universities, Lewis-Clark reported an enrollment decrease last fall, a 3.8% dropoff overall.