Idaho's college enrollment numbers surpassed a milestone — and defied a downward national trend.
Idaho's undergraduate enrollment totaled 100,851, according to fall 2017 statistics from the National Student Clearinghouse. In clearing the 100,000 plateau, Idaho also saw a 1.6 percent enrollment increase.
And that increase comes as national undergraduate enrollment dropped by 224,000 students, a 1 percent decrease.
Idaho's enrollment increase is significant — and not just because it bucks the national numbers. For years, the state's political, education and business leaders have struggled to figure out how to get more high school graduates to continue their education.
Idaho wants 60 percent of its 25- to 34-year-olds to hold a college degree or professional certificate. But in 2015, Idaho's postsecondary completion rate was mired at 42 percent — and state leaders now hope to hit the 60 percent milestone by 2025.
Enrollment numbers and postsecondary completion numbers are not interchangeable; they measure two different things. But as Idaho hopes to inch closer to its “60 percent goal,” the state is hoping to start by encouraging more students to enroll in college in the first place. For example, Idaho is in the third year of a “direct admissions” program, in which qualified high school seniors are pre-admitted to some or all of the state's colleges and universities.
And enrollments are growing across the higher education system. Boise State University posted record fall enrollment of 24,121. The University of Idaho recorded its third successive enrollment increase. Enrollment grew at each of the state's two-year colleges.
Here's a closer look at the 2017 enrollment numbers, in national context:
College enrollments increased in only 12 states and the District of Columbia.
Only four states topped Idaho's 1.6 percent enrollment increase: Arizona, Kansas, Texas and Utah.
While Idaho enrollment numbers grew for the second consecutive year, the national figure fell for the sixth successive year. Nationally, college enrollment has been dropping since the end of the Great Recession.
A post-recession enrollment drop is not surprising, as high school graduates choose work over college. But nationally, colleges are attracting fewer and fewer first-year students — even in the traditional college-bound cohort of 18- to 24-year-olds.
“This suggests further declines to come overall in the years ahead, which will continue to present planning challenges for institutions and policymakers seeking to adapt to new economic and demographic realities,” said Doug Shapiro, executive research director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
The National Student Clearinghouse is a Herndon, Va.-based nonprofit that focuses on higher education data reporting.
Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report.