The exodus of Idaho's best and brightest high school students is beginning to slow, educators say.
University leaders credit a number of factors for the change, ranging from increased state funding to a more positive image to capped enrollments at out-of-state colleges.Record enrollment increases this fall are further indications of the growing popularity of Idaho schools, educators say. Idaho's public college and three universities boast an average 24 percent enrollment increase in the past four years.
"There is more we still need to do to continue with this trend," said Hal Godwin, vice president of student affairs for the University of Idaho. "We need to continue to focus on excellence and fund scholarships for in-state students," he said.
Sophomore Matthew Miller enrolled at Boise State University after graduating with honors from Boise High School in 1989. Miller chose Boise State over two highly rated, private liberal-arts colleges in other states.
"I believe the quality of education is equivalent to anyplace else I've been," said Miller, who is majoring in biology and secondary education.
Increasing involvement in the University of Idaho's honors program, from 60 students to 300 in the past five years, is an indicator that some of the best students are choosing the University of Idaho, Godwin said.
Idaho State provided another example of growing brain power. Vice President Mike Gallagher said the university has the nation's highest pass rate for students taking the certified public accountant exam.
At Boise State, President John Keiser said the competition for scholarships is keen with an increasing caliber of high school students vying for them.
Indeed, the brain drain may be reversing. The state board survey indicates more out-of-state students are flowing across the border to attend Idaho colleges.
More than half of those first-time freshmen are migrating to Rexburg's Ricks College, a private, two-year college operated by the Church of Latter-day Saints.
Ricks administrators say the out-of-state migration is, in part, due to overflow from capped enrollments at Brigham Young University, a school also operated by the LDS Church.
Boise State's facilities, including the Morrison Center for the Performing Arts and the Pavilion, act as magnets for some students, Keiser said.
The University of Idaho's doctoral programs and land-grant status combine to bring a wide range of available classes and majors.
In general, student fees at Idaho's four-year institutions are lower than peer institutions in neighboring states.
Often, Idaho's institutions of higher education have more lenient admission requirements than comparable out-of-state universities.
Nationally circulated publications, including U.S. News and World Report, have ranked Idaho universities among the best education bargains in the country.
Students seeking a more individualized education look to Idaho's smaller-sized campuses.