West Views: ‘Cheap’ won’t grow University of Idaho enrollment

Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Moscow, Idaho

What’s so special about the University of Idaho?

We are compelled to ask as once again the annual price of most tuition there rises – $236 this time. Granted, it is the lowest increase in a decade, and even after the increase, the UI has a relatively low tuition compared to Washington State University just a few miles up the road.

WSU backers know why their university is special, pointing to an outstanding veterinary school and programs to study international animal health and its connections to human health. Its graduate programs in that area are ranked 14th in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. Four other graduate programs are in the top 50; 10 more in the top 100; five more in the top 150.

And it’s only increased most tuition $22 in three years.

So, similarly, what special programs does the UI have?

Well, none of its graduate programs were in the top 50. Only one – in the Department of Leadership and Counseling – ranked in the top 100, at 53. It had just five in the top 150.

What’s the point of these numbers?

It’s hard to expect the growth the university wants with such a lackluster academic reputation.

If a student asks why she should go to the UI, the quick answer today is, “Well, it’s cheap.”

President Chuck Staben told the state Board of Education on Thursday he has a plan for increasing enrollment. It involves reaching out to the state’s Hispanic/Latino and Native American populations, which aren’t well represented here. He also wants to increase scholarships. He also wants to help students manage their debt better.

So, when those students ask what’s so special about the UI, he'll answer, “Well, it’s cheap, and we'll help you manage your debt.”

That’s weak.

The UI needs to develop recognized centers of teaching and research excellence so they can be the answer, instead. The UI needs strong programs that will draw students from all over the West.

Maybe they exist, and we don’t know about them.

We can hope.

Maybe we will find out about them when the UI, the city of Moscow and the Chamber of Commerce complete their project to rebrand the city and the university.

We can hope.

Maybe better state and private funding for the UI isn’t a pipedream.

We can hope.

Maybe Vandal football will having a winning season next fall.

We can hope.