With the decline of enrollment nationwide, President Alvin F. Meredith III has taken steps to address the issue of BYU-Idaho’s branding and awareness. The goal is to increase freshman retention and increase new student enrollment.

College enrollment throughout the nation has been on a decline and has come to the attention of the university. BYU-I is working to identify the cause of the decline in retention and admissions throughout the nation and the school.

“A lot of universities actually have seen declining enrollment,” said Ben Hyde, the BYU-I admission coordinator.

According to the enrollment data on the university’s official website, overall enrollment has been declining, from fall 2020 to fall 2023 with a 12% decrease in on-campus students. BYU-I aims to change its perceived reputation and motivate potential students to reconsider by analyzing its current target message.

BYU-I is ranked number one by Payscale as the best in value in first-year Return on Investment of universities in the nation, outranking schools such as Harvard and BYU.

According to data from BYU-I Executive Strategy and Planning, 65% of BYU-I graduates are debt-free at graduation, 80% of students applying to graduate school are accepted within a year of graduation and 95% of job-seeking graduates are employed within a year of graduation.

“I was under the impression that not very smart or intelligent people go to Idaho. In my head, I always wanted to go to a more prestigious school. I had always thought (BYU-I) was kinda lame,” said Emily Wilcox, a BYU-I alumna.

Wilcox said she had applied and been accepted to many colleges including the University of Utah and BYU. She had put a down payment for U of U when she decided to tour BYU-I.

Before touring she had assumptions about the university that did not appeal to her. Wilcox noted that other factors such as the weather and location were hard to face when attending school but did not discount her overall experience.

“I chose BYU-I over U of U because when I toured the campus it felt very special,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox noted that with three schools named BYU — Hawaii, Provo and Idaho — they inevitably are compared to each other, and BYU-I is perceived as a second choice.

“Nobody goes around and is like ‘Oh, you go to BYU-Idaho? That is such a great school.'” Wilcox said. “I feel like how people talk about it is one of the reasons (enrollment has decreased).”

BYU-Idaho Center entrance.

BYU-Idaho Center entrance. Photo credit: Gabriela Fletcher

Wilcox graduated from BYU-I with a bachelor’s degree in international studies and is currently working towards a master’s degree.

“They’re just thinking, ‘Oh, BYU-Idaho, a church school that if I don’t get into BYU Provo, I can go there,'” said Perry Rockwood, the BYU-I public affairs communication manager. “So that’s kind of like what we’re trying to do with our new branding now, and say, ‘it’s actually a great first option. And you could love it here.’”

Since his inauguration in September, President Alvin F. Meredith III has pursued two objectives to make the school a first-option university. He has met with different campus groups — both students and staff — every Thursday to ask questions on how the school can be improved.

”Two things he’s focused on is increasing enrollment,” Rockwood said. “And then the second one is student retention, especially freshmen. President Meredith has been huge about our social media presence. And so we’ve been working on plans. It’s all going to start with YouTube.”

Rockwood has been working on social media campaigns and marketing to attract potential students. Plans are in the works to create a YouTube channel targeted to prospective students focused on student stories and what the university can offer.

“Students are literally going on TikTok to look at universities,” Rockwood said. “And so if we’re not showing why we’re a good place for students on those platforms, then we’re missing out.”

The university is making other efforts to change the school’s reputation. Rockwood said the admissions office has been visiting more high schools this year than previous years by meeting students face-to-face and sharing BYU-I’s story.

“One other thing is anytime the President and Sister Meredith have to go somewhere for an assignment,” Rockwood said, “they hold firesides for the youth in that area and their parents talk about the school. So I think we’re doing everything we can to get in front of prospective students.”

Starting in the spring, BYU-I will be offering a new “BYUI 101” course for all freshmen to boost their retention. This course will help students adapt to their first semester of school by knowing the accessible resources on campus.

The new course will address topics such as free tutoring, understanding financial aid and internship opportunities, all aimed at giving new students the best step forward.

“Our main mission, which is to build disciples of Jesus Christ, will never change,” Rockwood said. “But how we appeal to certain audiences has to evolve.”