We can all be proud of the progress being made at the University of Idaho.
Despite the challenges of the past year, the university community has stepped up in a big way to reverse our budget deficits and keep enrollment stable amid a once-in-a-generation pandemic.
After back-to-back years of losing about $20 million, the university’s audited financial results show a small operating surplus of approximately $900,000 for the fiscal year that ended June 30. This result is particularly impressive given the challenges created by COVID-19 for university operations.
Outperformance against budget came from many different units and geographic locations throughout the state. It’s another example of how Vandals just get it done. Together, we stopped the financial bleeding and created capacity to respond to the many challenges presented by COVID-19.
That hard work is also reflected in the efforts to maintain an in-person learning environment for our students. We’ve been able to keep that destination campus experience by testing our students and isolating those who tested positive. Over the past nine weeks, the number of active positive cases has fluctuated daily, but has stayed low at an average 1-1.5% of the total faculty, staff and student population.
It appears that many students are sitting out a year because of the pandemic. Fall 2020 enrollment is 10,791, with a 3% decline in full-time students and overall decline of 9.5%. Much of the overall decline is in the dual-credit student (high school students who earn college credit) and non-degree-seeking student categories. These students don’t pay the full tuition rate, so while there is a decrease, it will not result in a substantial hit to our budget.
A decline in the number of Vandals is somewhat disappointing given that our applications were up 16% and our acceptances up 14%, which in a normal year would lead to enrollment gains, but there are bright spots throughout the system.
The number of WUE students – applicants from other Western states who receive a tuition discount – is up significantly, about 21%. New graduate student enrollment is up 4.2% in a continued trend from 2019. The College of Law saw a notable increase, in large part due to the 110 transfer students accepted from the now-defunct Concordia Law School in Boise. Twenty-two National Merit Scholars joined the university this fall, part of a 56-member cohort who receive the distinguished scholarship.
And, thankfully, even though our enrollment is down, the budget impact is limited. Higher-margin WUE enrollments, together with the issuance of fewer tuition waivers than expected, have offset declines in non-degree-seeking and dual-credit students whose tuition dollars don’t contribute much to our bottom line.
Advising efforts have also paid dividends. First- to second-year retention held steady at 77% this fall. It is worth noting that the Spring 2020 graduating class was the largest in the past six years – requiring us to bring in even more first-time students to fill the gap created by a successful class of graduates.
We are in a much better place than a year ago, even in the wake of a pandemic. We can now turn our efforts to recruiting the Fall 2021 class, touting our place as a top 6% public university in the nation and recognition as the No. 1 Best Value public university in the West by U.S. News and World Report.
I’m sharing this message with our university’s many advisory boards during their fall meetings this weekend. From solid financial ground, we can now look toward the future. The budget will continue to be a focus this year, but we will also continue our efforts on the university’s priorities of student success, research and telling our story.
We are a university on the rise. Thanks to the solid foundation built by our entire Vandal Family over the past year, we are positioned to come out of this pandemic even stronger.