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Enrollment Uncertainty Looms Over Universities In The Mountain West

Idaho State University in Pocatello is among the universities in the Mountain West bracing for a drop in enrollment come fall.
Idaho State University
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Idaho State University in Pocatello is among the universities in the Mountain West bracing for a drop in enrollment come fall.

Idaho State University has accepted more students for next year than it did for this year, but that doesn't mean it'll have more students enrolling.

Click 'play' to hear the audio version of this story.

"It's too early to tell," said Staci Phelan, who works in enrollment for the university.

Phelan says their surveys show students will likely wait until the last second to decide whether they'll even sign up for next year.

"I think students are concerned about what school will look like in the fall. Will they be in person? Will they be online?" she said.

So far, there's no clear answer to those questions. And colleges are having to deal with that uncertainty while weighing other challenges such as canceled fundraisers and likely state budget cuts.

Matt Henry, a scholar in residence at the University of Wyoming, said he's concerned about enrollment, too, especially when some classes were challenging to switch to an online format in such a short time. He's currently teaching a class on environmental justice over Zoom.

"For me, it's really important for (students) to know that we're doing the best that we can," Henry said, adding that with more time to plan, online learning will likely improve if it's still needed in the fall.

"We're going to continually work to improve that experience for students," he said.

Still, higher education isn't cheap. Enrollment will also depend on students being able to pay tuition at a time when the economy is in a downward spiral.

So no matter when universities open their doors again, there will be hard decisions ahead for universities and students alike.Find reporter Madelyn Beck on Twitter @MadelynBeck8

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio News

Madelyn Beck is a regional Illinois reporter, based in Galesburg. On top of her work for Harvest Public Media, she also contributes to WVIK, Tri-States Public Radio and the Illinois Newsroom collaborative.
Madelyn Beck
Madelyn Beck is Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. She's from Montana but has reported everywhere from North Dakota to Alaska to Washington, D.C. Her last few positions included covering energy resources in Wyoming and reporting on agriculture/rural life issues in Illinois.
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