Boise State University President Bob Kustra sees serious problems in funding cuts to higher education across the nation, but wants to do something about it at his school without the oversight from the state of Idaho.
Kustra stood before the House Education Committee Tuesday to outline some of his school's plans to deal with budget cuts enacted by the Legislature. He argued that because state contributions to BSU are dwindling, the school should have more freedom to run its operations in its own way. According to Kustra, when he wants to purchase highly-technical scientific equipment for school programs, he must first approve the purchase through university bureaucracy, followed by state bureaucracy, which Kustra says, has nearly led to the school losing out on large amounts of grant funding due to the longevity of the purchase process.
State-funded universities will no longer serve as such, but should, instead, be called "universities with a public purpose," said Kustra. BSU's new business building is being built with "not one dime" of state funding, touted Kustra, which, he believes, is a testament to his school's creativity and innovation. He feels universities across the nation, including BSU, will need more flexibility in finding funding and in offering different programs that serve the needs of students.
He believes the nation is facing a crisis, which he feels can be solved by regions of the country working together to solve problems. He told lawmakers that the University of Nevada, Reno, is completely cutting its agriculture program, which has been a large part of its offerings since the school's inception. He postulated the cross-state agreements between schools could solve program cuts by allowing students from one state to attend a certain school in another state while enjoying in-state tuition rates at the new university. Then, he said, students from the other state would come to, for example, the University of Idaho for certain programs offered by that school. Students from other schools with agreements would also enjoy Idaho's in-state tuition rates while attending school.
Kustra also praised lawmakers for their work to push higher education-related bills through the Legislature in quick succession. He specifically pointed to the creation of the Higher Education Stabilization Fund, the product of Gov. Butch Otter, Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, and Sen. Joe Stegner, R- Lewiston. The bill creates three reserve accounts which will hold funds for future use of universities and colleges in times of economic hardship. He also praised the passage of House Majority Leader Mike Moyle's, R-Star, bill to exempt BSU's next housing project from property taxes. American Campus Communities (ACC), a Texas-based corporation specializing in dorm construction, has reached an agreement with BSU to build an 850-bed residence on the south end of campus, which will be aided by Moyle's legislation. Officials on both sides of the agreement were concerned that Ada County, in which BSU resides, would be forced to tax ACC while it owns the building for the next 65 years because of state code. Moyle's bill would exempt the building, while in use solely for educational purposes, from property tax requirements.
Kustra said that project, like the new business building, display the innovation of the university. "We're not building university housing on the backs of students," said Kustra.
The university is also working to condense curriculum to allow students a way to get through school in three years, said Kustra. Several universities across the nation have moved in this direction, said Kustra, which would help to make the educational experience more affordable for everyone. The school's current project, a program that guarantees students the ability to graduate in four years if they follow a course charted out by school officials, has only had a "handful" of participants, Kustra said.
Reps. Steve Thayn, R-Emmett, and Branden Durst, D-Boise, also received kudos from Kustra for their work on the Mastery Advancement Pilot Project, a trial program which could allow high school students in Idaho to graduate up to three years early and receive a state-funded scholarship for doing so. Kustra said he is an advocate for finding ways to allow those students ways to make better use of their senior years, which he believes are often wasted.