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What factors have Idaho colleges seeing lower enrollment numbers?

This week is college application week in Idaho.

College application week is aimed at promoting higher education and encouraging high school graduates to pursue a college degree.

Idaho is doing a lot of things in recent years to try and make it easy for high school students to get into college. There are things like “Direct Admissions” which is a pre-acceptance to a state college or university based on high school performance.

There’s also “Apply Idaho” which allows students to potentially apply for all state colleges and universities for free, with one application.

There’s also been a push to offer more dual enrollment courses for high school students.

So why are most colleges and universities in the state seeing lower enrollment numbers?

Dr. Dan Cravens, an economics specialist and a professor in ISU’s College of Business, said a large part of it has to do with how the economy looks.

“They tend to find when they’re faced with an attractive job market where they can find employment, there’s that attractiveness of saying, ‘Well, you know, I can sit out for a couple of years after high school and earn some money, get a job and not worry about school,'” Cravens said. “The economy allows for that and a lot of them choose to do that.”

However, Cravens said when the economy isn’t as strong, that’s actually when you tend to see enrollment increase.

“When you’ve got an economy that is struggling – where you’ve got high unemployment, it’s really hard to find work for kids coming out of high school and so you have the opposite effect,” Cravens said. “You tend to see college enrollment, post secondary enrollment increase because these students are like, ‘Wow. I can’t find a job. I realize I need more education in order to be competitive.'”

Cravens said there are other factors students consider that affect their choice for college like family income and the cost of college, plus the fear of debt having to pay for college.

Cravens added there’s also the fact that Idaho has a high population of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, with many members serving missions after high school.

“That pulls a lot of individuals who are just coming out of high school away from post secondary education for 18 months or two years,” Cravens explained. “Now, a lot of those individuals come back but it skews our statistics here in Idaho in ways you wouldn’t see in states in the Midwest or the east with a lower LDS population.”

Cravens also added that its a cyclical effect with the economy. Most of the jobs in Idaho needed to be filled in future require some sort of post secondary education, so lower college enrollment takes its own effect on the economy.

“If folks from Idaho can’t fill those positions, it makes it hard for companies that offer that type of employment to stay here or to locate here in Idaho so it is a significant concern,” he said.

College application week first started in Idaho in 2013.

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