Despite the creation of its first comprehensive statewide marketing and advertising campaign, Idaho State University saw only a minimal increase in students this fall.
The headcount of 12,425 students was just 0.3 percent higher than it was a year ago, and was largely due to a jump in dual-credit and graduate students. The number of undergraduate degree-seeking students actually fell by 326 students, or 4.3 percent.
In a recent news release, university officials acknowledged some of the positive changes they are seeing, but they also recognized the need for improvement.
“We are seeing positive trends in our enrollment data,” President Kevin Satterlee said in the news release. “But it is important not to lose focus on improvements that must be made. We are working to solve a multi-year enrollment problem, and it will take time to impact meaningful change.”
ISU officials have already been working on that effort, in part, by shedding more light on the university and its offerings.
They signed a $975,000 contract with Mitchell+Palmer in September 2018 to gather research, hold listening sessions, develop identity standards, create advertising content and schedule media buys as part of a comprehensive statewide marketing campaign — the first in the school’s history, according to ISU spokesman Stuart Summers.
“Through that campaign, awareness of the University increased. For the first time in our 120-year history, we are creating a buzz about the University in every corner of the state,” Summers wrote in an email response to the Journal.
But it hasn’t had a significant impact on enrollment. Yet.
Summers said it took a while to develop and produce the advertising content, and many students had already made their college choice by the time they were able to start advertising in March.
But now that the groundwork has been laid, the university plans to keep building on the buzz it has created.
ISU officials recently signed another $775,000 one-year contract to continue the statewide marketing campaign. And thanks to last year’s progress, they were able to start advertising in October this year.
“Telling the story of Idaho State University is a priority, and it will remain a priority well into the future,” Summers wrote. “It is important for us to communicate our strengths and share our successes. We have a multi-year roadmap for the marketing campaign.”
This year’s efforts will focus on reaching prospective students through social media and will include both advertising production and statewide media buys, according to Summers.
In addition to its campaign efforts, ISU has added new recruiter positions and is working to improve communication with prospective students.
ISU is not the only university reporting an increase in student enrollment right now.
The University of Idaho in Moscow has 11,926 students this fall, up 0.71 percent overall from the year before. But full-time on-campus enrollment is down by a few tenths of a percent, officials said.
Boise State University, on the other hand, recently announced that it broke an enrollment record for the fourth year in a row.
Officials there reported an almost 3 percent increase in enrollment this fall, bringing the total number of students to 26,272.
“We’re thrilled that so many students from Idaho and beyond have chosen to become Broncos,” BSU president Marlene Tromp said in a news release. “We are committed to providing all of our students unrivaled academic opportunities and student-life experiences that foster their growth and help them make their unique impact on the world.”
Locally, Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg and the College of Eastern Idaho in Idaho Falls are also seeing growth.
BYU-Idaho has 20,592 students on campus this fall, up 1.8 percent, and the College of Eastern Idaho has 1,619 students, up nearly 17 percent.
But BYU-Idaho is a private university, not a state university, and the College of Eastern Idaho has only existed as a community college for a few years, so it’s not surprising that numbers there are still increasing rapidly.
ISU officials are also hoping to see more growth in the future.
Officials say they are not only continuing their marketing campaign to draw more students to ISU, increase Idaho’s go-on rate and build support among the school’s alumni and friends, but they are working on efforts to improve retention rates and give students more opportunities.
“Student retention is a major factor in our enrollment, and it is a primary focus for the University,” Summers wrote. “Our efforts to improve retention will directly impact our mission of effectively educating and graduating students.”
Earlier this year, ISU assembled a task force to study retention. Summers said the group is brainstorming ideas and will recommend ways that the university can better serve its students.
ISU is also working to give high school students more opportunities to continue their education by earning dual credits.
“In the past year, the Early College Program created opportunities for students to participate in college classes on campus,” Summers wrote. “The Early College Program has also worked to build upon existing relationships and agreements to serve more students in regional high schools.”
And their efforts do seem to be helping.
One of ISU’s biggest gains this year was in dual-credit students, which went up 10.4 percent.
That not only benefits the school, but the students who participate.
“Dual credit opportunities help prepare students for college after high school graduation. It also helps reduce the overall cost of a college education for students and their families,” Summers wrote. “In some cases, students can enter the workforce in less time, depending upon the area of study.”
ISU officials are also continuing efforts to add more academic and career and technical education programs for all of their students and to build on their existing programs, Summers said.
Still, officials say it will take time, and the community’s help, to get where they want to be.
“We acknowledge and celebrate the increases shown in this report, but we are also committed to improving our undergraduate enrollment,” President Satterlee said in the recent news release about fall enrollment numbers. “That goal will require a combined and unified effort of the entire University, and our entire community, to properly address.”