When University of Idaho President M. Duane Nellis started at UI, he announced an enrollment goal — that Idaho would host 16,000 students by the year 2020.
Now, as Nellis will start his presidency at Texas Tech University June 15, it is time to reexamine his goals.
The university released spring 2013 enrollment numbers Friday, which showed 11,551 students are enrolled for the spring semester, down from 12,493 in the fall semester.
The numbers show UI is not growing fast enough to reach Nellis’ goal. Freshman enrollment increased .1 percent in the fall, and overall enrollment was up 1.4 percent. Idaho needs a little more than four times that amount during the next four years to get back on track. Not likely, with the 7.5 percent decrease in enrollment between fall 2012 and spring 2013.
The goal of 16,000 students is admirable. More students enrolled means more money and resources, more graduates and more national attention, but 16,000 by 2020 might be too much growth too fast.
UI needs to focus on building itself up by improving its infrastructure, bringing in and retaining qualified faculty and staff, and maintaining an overall quality education.
After all, one of UI’s biggest draws is its close-knit atmosphere and reputation as a Vandal family. UI is a small enough school that students can walk across campus and see people they know. Class sizes are relatively small, and professors are accessible. At the same time, it is large enough to be a renowned research university and attracts diverse students from various countries and cultures.
Focusing on improving what UI already has will increase retention and draw new students. The foundation of an excellent education and reputation as Idaho’s flagship university will allow UI to grow at a reasonable rate without putting pressure on admissions to meet an unrealistic goal.
As the search commences for a new president, UI should build its strengths and fix its weaknesses. After all, if you build it, they will come.