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In December 2019, state higher education officials announced the first tuition and fee freeze in more than four decades. They said it was the right thing to do in order to keep the costs down for students and parents. But there’s another reason to insist tuition and fees remain flat: The largest of Idaho’s public colleges and universities continue leading social justice crusades while student performance stagnates.
A mere 27.5 percent of Idaho’s four-year college students land a degree in four years, according to the state’s own data. If you extend the time horizon to six years, the result is better, but still fewer than half. The University of Idaho performs the best with 56 percent of students earning a degree — when given six years instead of four. Boise State’s six-year graduation rate is 47 percent. ISU and LCSC underwhelm with results in the 30s. Believe it or not, those figures actually represent something of an improvement from the last couple of years, but still embarrassingly low.
Of those four- and six-year students who do graduate, my friends at the Texas Public Policy Foundation have some additional bad news: TPPF concluded earlier this year that 43 percent of graduates from Idaho’s four-year schools were likely on the wrong side of the debt-to-earnings ratio. They’re earning degrees that really were not worth the investment. (On the other hand, according to TPPF, 98% of graduates from Idaho’s community colleges fared well in the debt-to-ratio test, making the state’s two-year schools among the best earnings value in the country).
Despite continuing to fail at the one job the state’s colleges and universities are supposed to do, three of Idaho’s four-year schools remain focused like a laser on social justice and left-wing indoctrination. BSU, U of I, and ISU have all individually decided to devote resources to promoting Black Lives Matter and connected Marxist ideology. BSU has done little to rollback institutionalized fear mongering and social justice initiatives, and the school continues to dedicate staff and money to validate and advance students’ misguided world views of Idaho and America as a safe haven for white supremacy. Only Lewis-Clark State College has, near as I can tell, stayed clear of the nonsense.
The Bad Three were warned to knock it off. Last winter Idaho lawmakers rejected two budgets for the state’s colleges and universities before they added a condition to the third budget, which ultimately passed. Lawmakers said to higher ed administrators: Get back to your core missions, reduce administrative bloat, and report back to us on what you did to accomplish those objectives. If progress has been made, it’s mostly invisible to the naked eye.
Another argument for freezing tuition and fees is that, if anything, holding college courses in the era of ‘rona mania should mean it costs less to operate Idaho’s colleges and universities, not more. Students haven’t been able to utilize classroom and other campus facilities as they had previously.
But even putting that aside, Idaho’s colleges and universities have done nothing to show they should be rewarded with more public money, especially from the pockets of students and their parents. All they’ve done is demonstrate that any additional funds will find its way into the hands of programs that impart a radical worldview and do nothing to help students cross the finish line with meaningful college degrees.