College costs: running some numbers

How affordable are Idaho’s colleges and universities, compared to the competition?

The conventional wisdom, of course, holds that Idaho remains a higher education bargain, despite continued tuition and fee increases and a rather modest portfolio of  state-offered scholarships.

And a rough glance at the feds’ new college scorecard — touted by President Barack Obama during his State of the Union address — appears to bear out the conventional wisdom.

Users can search the scorecard site on several dollars-and-cents metrics, such as graduates’ student loan debt and default rates.

Let’s focus today on what the site calls the “net price” of college. This is the bottom-line annual cost of college — after grants and scholarships are factored into the equation. In other words, the net price is how much students and parents have to pay, or borrow.

The figures are dated, from the 2010-11 academic year. But let’s use them for the sake of comparison.


Let’s start with the net cost at Idaho’s four-year public institutions.

University of Idaho: $13,253.

Boise State University: $13,082.

Lewis-Clark State College: $12,094.

Idaho State University: $11,440.


Now, let’s look at the state’s two-year colleges (figures for the College of Western Idaho aren’t available on the scorecard).

North Idaho College: $7,012.

College of Southern Idaho: $5,993.


Now, let’s look at an Idaho private college.

College of Idaho: $16,742.

And let’s also look at one of Idaho’s for-profit colleges.

University of Phoenix-Idaho campus, Meridian. $21,773.


Now, for maybe more of an apples-to-apples comparison, let’s look at the in-state costs at a few public universities in neighboring states.

University of Oregon: $14,699.

University of Nevada: $14,127.

University of Montana: $13,937.


And just to round out the comparison, let’s look at the net costs at a few private universities.

Northwestern University: $27,113.

Stanford University: $21,421.

Harvard University: $18,277.

  • Emily Walton

    That’s nice. But if you have to stay at an institution for 5 or 6 years because there is a bottleneck in Junior or Senior classes, that raises the overall cost. Not including lost wages because you can’t start working to full capacity yet. It also costs the state more in funding.

  • Russell Joki

    The Idaho State Board of Education (SBOE) is, under the Idaho Constitution, responsible for “general
    supervision of the state educational institutions”. SBOE members are
    appointed by the Governor, so politics play a role in their decision
    making. That’s a good thing, because it means (or should mean) that the
    SBOE pays attention to public opinion as well as the opinions of
    university presidents. When the (SBOE) decides on the
    tuition increases, then, it should not “rubber stamp” what the
    university presidents recommend. Yes, Idaho’s university presidents can
    tout “below average costs” but everything in Idaho is “below
    average”. The SBOE should ask the university presidents some tough
    questions: Why is enrollment down? What research can they provide on
    employment placement of graduates? How do they respond to the research
    and public opinion that favors 2 year (or less) professional
    certification programs with high employment (and pay) placement? In
    tough economic times, when Idaho families are belt-tightening, have the
    presidents taken pay cuts as part of “right sizing” the university
    budget? Have any university administrators taken pay cuts? Has there
    been any sacrifices among the administrators? These and other “public
    interest questions”, should guide the SBOE decision on tuition