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State education board OKs single-digit college tuition increases

State education board OKs single-digit college tuition increases

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
April 6, 2010
Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
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April 6, 2010

The Idaho State Board of Education Monday approved college tuition increases of around 9 percent that would cost students hundreds of dollars a year.  The rising student fees come after Idaho lawmakers gave universities a $32 million reduction in funding for the next school year.  During the past two years, state funding has dropped $67.6 million, a 23.7 percent reduction, according to the board.

“We’re at a critical juncture in the state of Idaho and for higher education in our state,” said U of I President Duane Nellis, who said the board’s decision would have a long-lasting impact.  Nellis and other university presidents said the tuition increases would be paired with reducing wasteful or inefficient programs, but that they are reaching the limit of their cuts.  “We’ve squeezed this wet sponge and there’s not a lot of water coming out of it, but we’re trying to find further efficiencies where we can,” Nellis said.  “Our goal is to have a fee increase that will enable us to stabilize our financial situation.”

The eight-member state board met for a full day, hearing from Nellis and other university leaders before setting tuition rate for Idaho’s four universities and colleges for the next school year.  The approved rate hikes ranged from 8.75 percent to 9.5 percent.  The eight-member state board of education supervises the state school system, and approves fees for colleges and universities every year in April.

Full-time students could pay anywhere from $402 to $469 more per year more to attend Idaho public colleges and universities.  In-state tuition at all four four-year institutions this fall will range from almost $5,000 to $5,400 annually.  The board lowered the two highest tuition requests, which came from the U of I and Idaho State University (ISU).  U of I asked for a 12 percent increase, but the board approved a 9.5 percent hike.  That reduction saves students more than $120 and removes $1.2 million from U of I’s budget for next year.

The board lowered ISU’s requested 9.9 percent hike to 9 percent.  The board approved requests from Boise State University (BSU) for a 9 percent increase and from Lewis-Clark State College (LCSC) for an 8.7 percent increase.

“I think we had to do what we did,” said board vice president Paul Westerberg of Preston.  He said board members tried to keep tuition increases reasonable and balance the needs of the institutions with the added cost to students.

Board member Ken Edmunds of Twin Falls opposed most of the tuition requests.  “I believe they will affect the affordability and accessibility for college students,” he told IdahoReporter.com.  He said he would have approved lower tuition increases, but didn’t say how low.

During the meeting, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, who also sits on the board, raised his concerns about universities’ budgets that would raise fees on students but not lower salaries for professors and staff.  He told ISU president Arthur Vailas that if college faculty took cuts similar to public school teachers and staff, tuition increases would be much less.  “You could considerably cut your request down if you were to follow the same medicine as K-12, where we’ve had to reduce salaries,” Luna told Vailas.  “It strikes me that if 89 percent of your budget is salaries and you’re not going to any portion of that [for reductions,] that perhaps there needs to be some balance there.”

Vailas said cutting faculty salaries would make the school less competitive in keeping staff.  “You would drive these people away,” he said.  Vailas said universities in other states have seen problems when they cut staff salaries.  “That strategy has been very devastating to those universities.  What we’re doing instead is substantially reducing the administrative overhead.”  Vailas said higher education is a different business than K-12 education.  ISU has reduced total staff, but not staff salaries.

BSU president Bob Kustra agreed with Vailas that national competition for faculty limits reductions in faculty pay.  Kustra said private universities across the country poach professors from public universities.  “Clearly, the greatest challenge public research universities in America are having today … is that they’re being robbed and stolen blind by private universities who are stealing their faculty,” he said.  Kustra said BSU isn’t a research university, but that Stanford tried to recruit a BSU geosciences professor.  He also said that raising tuition could lower affordability, but will help preserve BSU’s core academic services.  “These increases are absolutely the only way,” he said.

Leaders at LCSC said they could easily have asked for a 15 percent increase, rather than the 8.7 percent request, according to Chet Herbst, the school’s vice president for finance and administration.  “If anything, we need more than the sister institutions do,” he said.  Herbst added that the school held the line on tuition to keep the college’s fees affordable and below levels at other public institutions.  “We’re really taking seriously what we’re asking for up here,” he said.

Student body presidents from the four schools said they understood the tuition hikes, and some endorsed the added cost their classmates would need to pay.  “I’m not in favor of tuition increases,” said BSU’s Trevor Grigg.  “With that being said, [BSU students] are grateful for any amount of subsidized education that we can receive.”  Grigg said he worked to reduce student activity fees that fund clubs and other activities at BSU.  “We’re going to make cuts on campus, and the money that we save is going to go into the classroom,” he said.

Clay Long, student body president at LCSC, said he also supports the fee increase and the budget discussion that administrators had with students.  “I’m very happy with our administration that they have worked closely with us,” he said.  Long also gave the state board a resolution passed by the Lewiston college’s student senate endorsing the change.

ISU’s Ross Knight said he appreciated the reforms at the university, but not the increased cost to students.  “We have transformed a university and we have implemented changes not thought possible a year ago,” he said.  “I disagree with tuition increases.  I’m a student.  I make $6,000 a year.”  U of I student body president Kelby Wilson called the increased burden on students reasonable.

Close to a dozen students from BSU and ISU attended the meeting in they called sit-in opposing the tuition increases.  Watch IdahoReporter.com's interview with one of the students here.

The state board has approved tuition hikes of between 4.8 percent and 7.3 percent during the last four years.  The last time the board allowed a double-digit fee increase for in-state students was for the 2005-2006 school year for BSU.  In-state tuition and fees in Idaho are lower than in nearby states, according to the state department of education.  Idaho currently ranks 14th out of 15 western states in resident tuition and fees.  If other states don’t raise fees, which is uncertain, Idaho could move up to 10th.

The state board of education also approved a 5.1 percent increase to Eastern Idaho Technical College (EITC) in Idaho Falls.  Students at EITC would pay $90 more a year.  “I think this 5.1 percent increase that we are requesting will allow us to keep providing a quality education,” EITC president Burton Waite told the board.  The board also approved tuition and fee increases for part-time, out-of-state, and graduate students that range from 2 percent to 15 percent.  BSU will lower the price of part-time credit hours to bring it into line with full-time costs, so that part-time students don’t end up paying more than full-time students.

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