Local legacy media columnist Dale Courtney (column, Nov. 9) and I agree the University of Idaho should be congratulated for having an overall 2% increase in enrollment this fall compared to last year. Washington State University was less fortunate with an overall 7.7% decline systemwide and a 6.7% decline for the Pullman campus. Courtney argues that WSU’s declining enrollment and falling academic ranking from a magazine are due to political decisions in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. Courtney also argues that with only 6,649 out of 27,366,000 college-age students putatively dying with COVID-19 since January 2020, remote instruction was clearly not worth the cost and UI demonstrates this difference.

Let’s put on our “academic weanie” hats and think about Courtney’s arguments in the context of a qualifying exam. Qualifying exams are a useful tool to identify graduate students who should have the opportunity to continue advancing toward their degree versus those who have not shown sufficient breadth of knowledge or ability to synthesize deeper understanding from available information.

In this case, I would start by asking the student to provide definitions of ancillary data and cherry picking. Nationwide, we face a significant crisis with approximately 1.3 million fewer college students than before the pandemic, but the distribution of losses is not evenly distributed between institutions. If we are going to draw conclusions from a single paired comparison (UI versus WSU) to support a thesis that remote instruction and a vaccine mandate are responsible for the WSU enrolment decline in 2022, I can simply point out that the University of Washington had the same policies as WSU and UW’s enrollment held steady between fall 2021 and fall 2022. By that limited standard, Courtney’s thesis is bogus.

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