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While Idaho universities see stagnant numbers, enrollment has boomed at community colleges

Community college enrollment growth over the past decade in Idaho outpaces the state's overall population increase, but it's a different story for universities.

BOISE, Idaho — As the population of the Gem State continues to grow, enrollment at Idaho colleges grows, too. However, that’s not necessarily the case at the state’s universities.

"Growth comes with its challenges. One of one of the challenges is trying to make sure that we ramp up and serve increasing enrollments here," said Dr. Dean Fisher, president of the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls.

Fisher knows all too well about growth and trying to keep up with it. The population of the Magic Valley and all of Idaho continues to explode.

From 2012 to 2022, the state's population has grown by more than 21 percent. According to the State Board of Education, higher education enrollment has grown by more than 8 percent in that same span. That's total headcount. But while everything else is growing, the state's public universities and Lewis-Clark State College have actually seen their enrollments shrink by a total of 1.4 percent. Meanwhile, community college enrollment has outpaced even the state's growth, ballooning by more 31 percent.

So, what's going on here? Why are so many more students choosing community colleges over four-year schools in Idaho? There are a lot of factors. More high schoolers taking dual credits means they can graduate from college in less time, which brings the enrollment numbers down. Also, community colleges are expanding their class offerings. Their hours are often friendlier to students who have to work, too.

But if you ask President Fisher, one of the main drivers is simply the fact that community colleges are more affordable.

"I'm happy to go on record and say that we've not raised tuition since 2018," Fisher said.

Meanwhile, the universities have increased their tuition in that time. After a four-year freeze on tuition hikes, Boise State University, Idaho State University, the University of Idaho and Lewis-Clark State College have all raised in-state tuition and fees for the upcoming 2023-2024 school year.

The greatly expanded Idaho Launch Program is also set to debut in the Fall of 2024. It's focused on Idaho workforce development by providing thousands of dollars to college students studying to go into high-demand careers.

Fisher said, with the right major at CSI, the Launch Program will cut tuition to a little more than $400 a semester.

"Affordability is going to be a very important factor moving into fall of '24,” he said. “It's already affordable, it's going to become highly affordable."

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