Enrollment at Idaho’s three community colleges is up during the down economy, but state funding could be dropping for some or all of them. Gov. Butch Otter’s budget calls for a $1.5 million overall reduction for community colleges in the next budget, but includes an additional $1 million for the new and rapidly growing College of Western Idaho (CWI) in Nampa.
“We are all thankful for the governor for recommending this amount,” said CWI President Bert Glandon. He said the school has had astronomical growth since it opened last spring, which could continue for the next two years. Glandon said CWI could have asked for $2 million due to the unexpected growth. “We don’t know how big we should be. We really have no idea.” CWI opened with 1,200 students its first semester, but now has 4,837, according to Glandon.
Lawmakers on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) questioned the extra funding for CWI. “It’s a difficult balance to strike for me,” said Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d’Alene. North Idaho College (NIC) in Coeur d’Alene serves Hammond’s district. Community colleges receive a portion of their funding from county property taxes. Hammond said CWI should look to property taxes rather than the state general funds. “We all have to share that hurt,” he said. Currently, Ada and Canyon county property taxes support CWI, but some on JFAC said surrounding counties, including Elmore County, could tax themselves to support CWI.
Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said the extra funding for CWI is reasonable but may not be possible. “It makes sense,” she said. “I don’t know if we could find the money.” Jaquet said she’s taken courses at the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls and said community colleges help workers build their skillset. “They’re so instantly responsive,” she said.
Jaquet said many legislators on JFAC think CWI should look to local property taxes for additional funding. But Glandon said it would be tragic if CWI doesn’t receive the added state funding. “This is not a line-item in our budget. It is an investment in our future,” he said.
Idaho’s two other community colleges, NIC and CSI, also have more students, but are seeing reductions in state funding. NIC President Priscilla Bell said the two schools worked to help create CWI to serve the Treasure Valley, but said all three colleges need state support. “We strongly supported the formation of (CWI),” Bell said. “We were assured that the funding for CWI would not come from the existing pie for CSI and NIC.”
JFAC co-chairman Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said dwindling tax revenues will affect all state services. “I only have so many dollars in the pie to spend,” Cameron said. “We are looking at reductions for everyone.”
Bell said more students than ever are attending NIC. “Budget holdbacks and decreases never come at a good time, but when they come with enrollment increases it’s even more severe,” she said. The extra tuition and fees from students have offset statewide holdbacks from Otter, but reduced state funding could pose problems, according to Bell. “Over the long term, North Idaho college students are going to feel the impact.” She said NIC has made layoffs and put off maintenance work. The result has been space constraints due to increased enrollment.
Attendance at CSI is also up. “When economic conditions get tough, enrollment at higher education in Idaho goes up,” CSI President Jerry Beck said. He said the school’s charitable foundation raised more money than ever in 2009 and gave more than $1 million in scholarships to students. All three community colleges are also receiving federal stimulus funding. Beck said he supports Otter’s budget reductions because they reflect the state’s economy. “It’s just the economic reality of where we are,” Beck said. He said CSI has lost $2.29 million in state funding during the last two years and will need to undergo additional significant layoffs during the next year. “We cannot afford to run classes that are not full,” he told lawmakers. “We’re going to do more with less … We’re dependent on every nickel and we’re cut to the bare bones.”
Public schools superintendent Tom Luna will address JFAC Thursday. He will likely discuss Otter’s recommended $27 million reduction during the next six months to public schools.