- Early data from Idaho's direct college admissions program shows an increase in enrollment at state institutions, especially at community colleges, and a decrease in student migration to out-of-state colleges.
- Direct admissions raised first-time undergraduate enrollments by just over 8% and in-state student enrollment by almost 12%, according to a January article published in the journal Research in Higher Education. Idaho rolled out its direct admissions program in fall 2015, and the study looked at how it affected enrollment through the 2017-2018 academic year.
- Idaho's program provides high school students with letters telling them they qualify to attend state colleges. Several states, including Connecticut and Minnesota, are considering similar programs. Direct admissions systems cost little to implement and can be built on information most states already have, according to the article's authors.
In 2010, Idaho had the lowest college-going rate of any state, according to the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. Only 45% of high school graduates enrolled directly in college. Five years later, the state became the first in the nation to adopt a direct admissions system.
Through the program, students automatically receive a letter telling them they meet admissions requirements to public colleges early in their senior year. Students still need to complete an application form for the institution of their choice by the end of their senior year.
The letters tell all high school seniors they can be admitted to the College of Eastern Idaho, the College of Southern Idaho, Lewis-Clark State College, the College of Western Idaho, North Idaho College and Idaho State University College of Technology. Depending on a student's GPA, high school coursework and standardized testing scores, they may also receive notice that they qualify for admission to Boise State University, Idaho State University and the University of Idaho.
The new research, by University of Pennsylvania predoctoral fellow Taylor Odle and University of Illinois higher education professor Jennifer Delaney, found direct admissions to be a promising method for increasing overall enrollment and reducing student migration out of state. However, the increase in first-time enrollment was concentrated at community colleges, with four-year colleges seeing little effect.
Pell-eligible enrollment was not substantially affected either. This was not a huge surprise, though, according to Odle.
"Pell Grant-eligible students make up a minority of students," Odle said. "It's not surprising there wasn't a significant increase in low-income students because direct admissions is not focusing on them specifically."
A direct admissions process could benefit other state systems, especially since the necessary infrastructure already exists in most places, according to Delaney.
"Direct admissions systems tend to use things that states already have, like the datasets that can match students' education records to the eligibility criteria," Delaney said. "We're not utilizing them for this purpose right now, but they're there."
The preexisting information also means the program cost is low.
"From a state perspective, more people going into college and earning credentials is positive," Odle said. "It's a boon to state tax revenues and workforce competitiveness. It's really a win-win-win for very few dollars, if they already have the infrastructure in place."
A direct admissions program can be seen as a bet that better communication and messaging will improve college-going rates.
Huge informational barriers affect students' belief in their own abilities and whether they can go to college, Odle said. The traditional college application process is complex and can exacerbate inequality, he said.
"Why not just plug two ends of a dataset the state already has together and functionally wipe out the entire process?" Odle asked.
Idaho's required applications are free to submit through the state's Apply Idaho system. Applications open Oct. 1, the same date the Free Application for Federal Student Aid can begin to be filed.
Odle said it's too early to tell if direct admissions will have an impact on degree completion. He would like to partner with states directly for future analyses.
"We're still pretty early to look at graduation outcomes for these students," Odle said. "We're using federal, publicly available data, which doesn't track at the student level."