TWIN FALLS • The College of Southern Idaho mid-semester enrollment report shows 853 fewer students enrolled this year than last year, an overall decrease of 9.4 percent.
The total number of students enrolled in CSI’s academic, technical, online and dual credit classes is 8,233. Last year, there were 9,086 students, the highest number in 10 years.
But even with the dip in numbers, this year’s enrollment is still higher than pre-recession numbers.
In 2008, there were 7,484 students and in 2007 CSI had 7,117 enrolled.
2006 — 6,735 students
2005 — 7,044 students
2004 — 7,068 students
2003 — 6,824 students
So why the decline after years of growth?
The number of students deciding to pursue higher education has fallen — dropping by about half a million to 19.9 million in 2012 — reversing a six-year pattern of solid growth for the first time since 2006, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Part of a Trend
CSI’s numbers are not unusual in the state or the nation. Many two- and four-year colleges are reporting enrollment decreases.
Two of Idaho’s three public community colleges lost students — CSI and North Idaho College — with a combined loss of 1,389. The College of Western Idaho experienced an increase of 97 students.
Larger schools have also seen a dip in their numbers this year. Boise State University fell to 22,003 from last year’s 22,678. Overall, student enrollment declined at the University of Idaho to 11,844 this fall semester from 12,493 students enrolled in the fall semester 2012.
CSI Spokesman Doug Maughan said the reasons for enrollment increases and decreases are often hard to pinpoint, but CSI administrators have identified several factors that might have contributed to the current downturn.
“The reasons are pretty diverse. In terms of economic improvement, it’s pretty dramatic. There’s quite a few more people at work and we’ve always found that when more people are going back to work the enrollment declines,” Maughan said.
In August, the Magic Valley had a 6.2 percent unemployment rate compared with the state’s 6.8 percent.
“We’ve gone as low as 3 percent unemployment, and we estimate that will return to those levels because we are seeing more and more demand for workers,” said Jan Roeser, regional economist for the Idaho Department of Labor, in an October Times-News article.
Roeser said one-fourth to one-third of employers list their jobs with the Department of Labor, and listings are up more than 50 percent above the past year.
“Employment numbers in the region have improved since a year ago. Significantly more people have steady work this year, which often makes it hard to fit college classes into their schedule,” said Curtis Eaton, CSI interim president, in a press release. Eaton also said the employee training CSI provides to a number of area industries might have also contributed to last year’s enrollment spike.
“We may be a victim of our own success in recruiting businesses to our area,” Eaton said.
Nearly half of this semester’s decrease — about 400 students — is in dual credit students. Dual-credit classes allow students to earn high school and college credit simultaneously. Maughan said there are about 70 high schools around the state that partner with CSI.
“We began strict enforcement of the prerequisites for high school students to get into our dual credit chemistry classes,” said John Miller, who oversees CSI’s dual credit programs. Miller said in a press release that it is quite possible that numbers will start to come back up in the spring semester when students are certain they qualify.
Younger LDS Missionaries
Other factors could include tighter restrictions fo the Federal Pell Grant program and the number of would-be students who are going on missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Last year, the leadership of the LDS church lowered the minimum age limit for missionaries to 18 for men and 19 for women - the age of many CSI students.
Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg reports a total campus enrollment of 15,584 students, a decrease of approximately 4.2 percent from last fall’s campus enrollment of 16,262. The decrease in enrollment, according to a press release from BYU-Idaho, reflects the anticipated impact from the change in missionary age, and current projections predict the missionary age change will continue to affect enrollment through the middle of 2014.
“It’s really impossible to be specific but it’s something the board looks at carefully because we are looking at increasing the number of student attending and graduating,” said Marilyn Whitney, chief communications and legislative officer with Idaho State Board of Education.
The ISBE has set a goal that 60 percent of Idaho’s 25-34 year olds will have a degree or certificate of value by 2020.
In spite of decreases, a few CSI programs have showed solid gains this semester. They include heating and air conditioning, business management, engineering, library science, medical assisting, practical nursing, physics, social work, surgical first assisting, and water resources management. Programs that were hit the hardest by dropping enrollment include chemistry, hospitality management, horticulture, Japanese and finance.
Chemistry, which is down 861 credits from last year, is one of the programs that requires prerequisites for dual-credit.
“Enrollment is one of those shifting lines. Every year, we have classes that have done very well that we’ve almost had to chase students away and then all of a sudden they are way down or vice versa,” Maughan said.
Recruiting and Marketing
He said the decrease will not affect budgeting because enrollment has not been in a long-term decline.
“We are moving ahead and treating this as an anomaly. Spring registration began today and we expect that the trend will move back up,” Maughan said.
However, steps are being taken to remedy the shortfall.
Maughan said the school is actively recruiting and locally marketing the school’s affordability without downplaying the quality of education students will receive.
“We want to make sure students know they can do two years here for a lot less,” he said. “We know that plan is not for everyone. The nice thing about coming to CSI is that we offer affordable self discovery. They save thousands and thousands of dollars and they go on to four-year institutions.”