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House Bill 603 - Colleges and universities

House Bill 603 - Colleges and universities

Fred Birnbaum
March 8, 2020

Rating: -1

Bill description: College and universities, Fiscal Year 2021 appropriation


The Fiscal Year 2021 budget request for the colleges and universities is unusual in a number of respects.

The governor proposed a modest budget in line with the view that the colleges and universities need to adjust to flat-to-declining enrollments (except BSU) and put an end to administrative bloat.

For example, in the period from 2005 to 2018 (for which the Idaho Freedom Foundation has comprehensive data), BSU grew staff by 41%. During the same period, full-time enrollment increased 16%. The growth in staff is one of the reasons costs and tuition have increased faster than inflation. At Idaho State University, despite declining enrollment in this same period, staff has increased at double-digit rates and the University of Idaho fits a similar pattern, as does Lewis-Clark State College.

In addition to the administrative bloat, Idaho institutions of higher learning are pursuing a social justice agenda that was documented in a letter signed by 28 House Republicans last summer. There is no sign that the universities have gotten the message, as BSU recently solicited applications for a vice-provost of equity and inclusion. 

In light of this, the governor’s budget increased General Fund spending .4% and overall funds 4%. 

However, on a 12-6 vote, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee decided to add another $1.7 million in funds to the budget. The budget is full of gimmicks that reflect unsound budgeting practices:

  1. The $1.7 million increase takes funds from the College of Western Idaho (a community college) and places them in the Higher Education Stabilization Fund and then transfers them to the dedicated fund accounts used for this increase.
  2. This method of funding allows proponents to claim that the General Fund increase is no larger than the governor’s. This is budget gimmickry.
  3. The funds are one-time money and are being used to support ongoing expenditures for occupancy and enrollment workload adjustments.
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