- Associated Press - Friday, April 15, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - The Idaho Board of Education on Wednesday approved a key component to Idaho State University’s tuition-lock program, but its success depends on whether the school can attract more students.

The pilot program aims to attract and retain students by keeping college tuition the same for incoming freshman through all four years of college attendance. ISU officials told the board members this week they will initially use their reserve finances to pay for the program, but they will need another 203 students enrolled over the next three years to continue to finance the plan.

Meanwhile, two of Idaho’s three public universities have witnessed a decline in student enrollment. ISU’s total enrollment was 13,032 in 2015, compared to 13,977 in 2005. University of Idaho’s enrollment decreased from 12,476 in 2005 to 11,372 in 2015.

ISU officials acknowledged this challenge during the board meeting Wednesday, but said they are offering more scholarship opportunities in an effort to attract and retain more students. The school’s Chief Financial Officer Jim Fletcher said they were also more aggressively courting out-of-state students in an attempt to boost enrollment.

“This is an experiment,” Fletcher said. “We are all watching to see what it does. If it is successful, hopefully it will spread to other Idaho institutions.”

The tuition lock is one of many measures state officials have pushed in hopes of reaching the state’s 2010 goal of getting 60 percent of Idaho’s young adults complete a post-secondary degree or certificate by 2020. Currently, only 40 percent of Idaho’s residents between the ages of 25 and 34 have completed post-secondary education.

Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter backed a statewide tuition-lock initiative during this year’s session, but the measure failed to pass the Legislature. Shortly after the Legislature’s adjournment in March, Otter and ISU president Arthur Vailas unveiled ISU’s fixed tuition pilot program that’s based on the statewide model.

As college tuition continues to skyrocket, more universities across the country are considering the tuition-lock model as a way to make college more affordable and overall more attractive to potential students and their parents.

One such tuition-lock program was implemented in 2007 at the University of Texas at Dallas. In the last 5 years, that school’s enrollment has increased by over 7,000 students.

However, it’s unclear if fixed-tuition is the sole motivator driving more students to the school.

Idaho’s neighboring state of Montana has implemented a similar cost-cutting measure. A tuition freeze has been in place at the two flagship universities for six of the last 10 years.

The average tuition and fees for the two universities is about $6,500 per year.

However, University of Montana reported a 4.3 percent decrease in enrollment last fall, while Montana State reported a 1.7 percent increase.

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