Across the state, the sour economy is forcing businesses, families and government agencies to cut back. But state's colleges and universities are figuring out ways to avoid the same dramatic cuts as everyone else. Idaho's publicly-funded higher education institutions are fending off big budget cuts with a combination of under estimated student enrollment and big tuition increases.
The State Board of Education granted a 9 percent increase in student tuition. The increase comes on the heels of the Legislature's budget cut of 7.8 percent from the Post Secondary budgets for the budget year that begins July 1. Between the cut and the increase, are schools having to cut back? The answer lies in student enrollment.
Historically, in recessive economies enrollment at colleges continue to rise at higher education institutions not only in Idaho, but around the nation. For instance, over the past four academic years Boise State has experienced relatively consistent growth at averaging more than 3.6 percent year-over-year. In the Fall of 2009, full time equivalent (FTE) student enrollment was at an all time record high student count – an increase of 4.48 percent from the Fall 2008 semester.
Boise State officials acknowledge that they estimated the increase in enrollment at 2 percent - less than half of the increase seen this past year and one-third less than historical enrollment increases.
This is budgeting move ensures Boise State that its budget is protected – especially in these days of cost cutting. When asked about the difference in enrollment numbers, the university stated, “This is a slightly conservative estimate since we do NOT want to be in a position of overestimating tuition revenues and needing to reduce college budgets after the academic year has begun).” Boise State officials add that they're planning for additional mid-year general fund reductions.
But of course, if Boise State's enrollment forecast is overly conservative, or additional mid-year budget cuts don't come, will the school then lower tuition? Not likely. The bottom line is Boise State University is projected to receive less than a 1 percent cut in revenue in fiscal year 2011 than in 2010 for state general fund and base tuition. When student fees are factored into the formula the University may actually see an increase in revenue.
All this in a year in which state government has overwhelmingly (up to 30 percent cuts for some agencies) reduced state agency budgets from health and welfare, K-12 education, and everything in between in order to bring the state budget in balance. Higher education institutions, such as Boise State, have the ability to construct budgets in a manner which underestimates total increases in revenues by not using historical enrollment data in the budgeting process and hiding revenues from the public.
Erik C. Makrush
Idaho Freedom Foundation
Post–secondary Education analyst