Idaho’s four-year schools agree on ‘momentous’ tuition freeze

For the first time in at least four decades, Idaho is freezing college and university tuition.

The one-year freeze will go into effect next school year — and it covers in-state undergraduate students at Idaho’s four-year institutions.

“The reason is because this is the right thing to do,” said Idaho State University Kevin Satterlee at a Statehouse news conference.

State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield speaks at a news conference Thursday, announcing the one-year tuition freeze. Sami Edge/Idaho Education News

Satterlee was flanked by State Board of Education officials, University of Idaho President C. Scott Green, Boise State University President Marlene Tromp and Lewis-Clark State College President Cynthia Pemberton. The optics weren’t an accident. State Board and university officials said the joint announcement was months in the making, and signals a new era of cooperation between a cadre of new presidents, all hired within the past two years.

For students, Thursday’s announcement means their tuition bills will break down as follows: $8,304 at the U of I; $8,068 at Boise State; $7,872 at ISU; and $6,982 at LCSC.

Meanwhile, the presidents will have to whittle away at some cash-strapped budgets. The four institutions collected about $16 million in new money from this year’s tuition increase. The U of I and ISU each collected between $2 million and $3 million in new money, Satterlee and Green said. The freeze will have more of an impact at Boise State, the state’s largest university, Tromp said. For LCSC, the state’s smallest four-year institution, the budget hit will be less acute, Pemberton said.

Idaho’s four college and university presidents — Idaho State University President Kevin Satterlee, University of Idaho President C. Scott Green, Boise State University President Marlene Tromp and Lewis-Clark State College President Cynthia Pemberton — had discussed a possible tuition freeze since spring. Sami Edge/Idaho Education News.

Speaking on behalf of the presidents, Satterlee instead emphasized the value of a tuition freeze. The goal, he said, was to make sure a challenging, quality college education is available to any student who wants it.

After a State Board meeting in April, when the board approved tuition increases of 4.9 to 6.1 percent, Satterlee said he came back to his senior staff and told them to prepare for balancing the books without additional tuition revenue. Soon after, the presidents and the State Board began talking about the prospects.

“This has been something that’s been in the works for some time,” said State Board President Debbie Critchfield, who wrote a guest opinion in May urging presidents to hold the line on tuition.

Despite the commonplace tuition increases, Idaho ranks in the top 10 nationally in terms of college affordability, according to current data from the College Board. However, five Western states charge less. And many education advocates have said the rising cost of college is keeping Idaho students from enrolling in college — or staying to earn a degree.

Like most states, Idaho has gradually shifted the cost of college away from the state’s budget and onto the shoulders of parents and students. The four institutions will collect $281 million in tuition revenues this year, a sum that has doubled over the past decade. In that same time, state appropriations for higher education have increased by only 23 percent.

It’s unclear when Idaho last had a tuition freeze — if ever. Tuition has gone up each year for the past 43 years. “That’s how far our records go back,” spokesman Mike Keckler said Thursday.

Gov. Brad Little lauded the news. “I commend our university presidents and the State Board of Education for sharing my commitment to college affordability in Idaho,” he said in a news release.

The tuition news comes as the higher education system is grappling with midyear budget cuts.

Little has ordered colleges and universities to cut spending by 1 percent this budget year, which ends June 30, and 2 percent the following year. In the wake of weakening state revenues, Little has ordered cuts across most of state government, with the exception of K-12.

Colleges and universities are still working out their cost-cutting plans, but most institutions are looking to comply by trimming payroll.

For the U of I, the budget crunch is even more severe. The university is facing a $14 million shortfall that could climb to $22 million over the next couple of years — over and above the budget cuts ordered by Little.

“It won’t be without some pain,” Green said of the freeze.

Satterlee conceded that the budget picture is cloudy, as all four presidents prepare to go to the Legislature next month to make their case for state funding. But he was undeterred.

“We believe we can make this commitment,” he said.

More reading: See what Critchfield has to say about the tuition freeze.




Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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