| 03.18.2018

Rethinking reluctance – Staben talks enrollment, diversity to state legislature


University of Idaho President Chuck Staben addressed the Idaho State Legislature”s Joint Financial-Appropriations Committee Wednesday, outlining the university and the state”s efforts to raise college enrollment.

In his speech, Staben praised the Idaho State Board of Education”s new Direct Admissions program, which notifies high school seniors with requisite SAT score and GPA they have been pre-admitted to Idaho universities throughout the state, as well as the important role UI plays in the program.

“We were pleased to have led that initiative, and I wish to thank the state board for embracing this and rolling it out so quickly,” Staben said in his address.

Staben has repeatedly emphasized the importance of making college a reality for more of Idaho”s young people. Last November, the school set into motion Enroll Idaho, a series of events across the state informing Idaho”s high school students of their college options. Students learned about how applications, costs and other barriers to enrollment could be managed.

“We followed up (Direct Admissions) with events at 43 locations throughout the state, which we plan to make an annual tradition,” said Staben, noting the school”s tremendous reach.

However, Staben made clear that this was only the first year of the program, and that there were some kinks to be ironed out. In an interview, he said there was a mix-up concerning Direct Admissions and Enroll Idaho. The State Board of Education was untimely in sending out Direct Admissions notifications, leading to high school students at Enroll Idaho events receiving instructions regarding letters that had not yet arrived in the mail. Staben described the situation as “pretty awkward.”


In his address, Staben went on to talk about a study by UI”s McClure Center for Public Policy called “Life After High School.” The study looked at the reasons Idaho”s high school seniors choose to go or not go to college.   Staben praised the report, saying it is an example of using UI”s research capability to address a major state concern in the area of college education.

However, the study found that Idahoans mainly forgo college because of concerns about cost and the practicality of college – not the lack of information that events like Enroll Idaho seek to remedy. About 90 percent of high school seniors knew where they could find information about college.

Nevertheless, in an interview, Staben explained that viewing the McClure study as an indictment of attempts to inform students would be misguided. While many students might know where they could go if they ever wanted information about college – for example, a school counselor – few actually seek it out.

Without ever seeing how scholarships can manage the cost of college or the practicality of having a bachelor”s degree, students can see insurmountable obstacles between them and an education, and Staben said events like Enroll Idaho are still valuable opportunities for students to see options they may not have previously considered.

In the question and answer segment of Staben”s presentation, local Senator Dan Schmidt asked about underrepresented minority enrollment. President Staben said that the UI”s goal is to match the demographics of the state. Despite the state”s lack of diversity, the university continues to struggle to meet this goal.

Native American and Hispanic students are most notably underrepresented. Staben pointed to the school”s efforts to better represent the state, with a thriving Native American Center and a Latino Advisory Council. UI is also making headway in Latino communities, with advertisements in Spanish throughout the state.

Staben said the school is unusual in its freshman to sophomore year retention rates of underrepresented minorities – just as important as drawing students to the school is keeping them there. He said no school in the state holds onto Native American and Hispanic students as well as UI.

Lastly, Staben mentioned groups that represent the state”s demographics, but still remain a distinct minority on campus, such as black students. Staben said more than half the black students on campus are student-athletes, many of whom come from out-of-state, which makes integrating them into the rest of the student body a challenge for the school. He said events like Alicia Garza”s Black Lives Matter presentation and groups like the National Society of Black Engineers enrich all students” experiences by exploring the wide range of cultures and identities in the U.S.

Ultimately, Staben said making college seem attainable for reluctant high school seniors and keeping them in school has proven to be a struggle, but that UI and the state of Idaho will continue to work together to solve the difficult problem.

Danny Bugingo  can be reached at arg-news@uidaho.edu

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