State Board approves tuition and fee increases

MOSCOW — The cost of college will go up by several hundred dollars next fall, after a divided State Board of Education approved tuition and fee increases for Idaho’s four-year institutions.

On Wednesday, the board signed off on the tuition and fee requests from the four-year schools. Next year, the sticker prices for in-state students will break down as follows:

  • University of Idaho: $8,304. This is a 5.6 percent increase from the current cost, $7,864.
  • Boise State University: $8,068, a 4.9 percent increase from $7,694.
  • Idaho State University: $7,872, a 6.1 percent increase from $7,420.
  • Lewis-Clark State College: $6,982, a 5.5 percent increase from $6,618.

While the State Board approved the institutions’ requests, it didn’t come without debate.

Several board members said the schools need the higher fees to cover several holes in their budget — such as inflationary increases, and a 3 percent salary increase that was only partially covered by the 2019 Legislature.

Other board members said they wanted to try to keep increases to a minimum, given that Idaho is already struggling with low and stagnant college go-on rates.

And board members on both sides of the vote lamented that they were left to plug holes in the higher education budget, using student tuition and fees to do so. This year, the Legislature approved a 3.5 percent budget increase for higher education.

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The board’s dilemma, and the board’s vote

David Hill used ISU to make the case for the tuition and fee requests.

For several years, ISU has been aggressive in trying to hold down student costs. The university also tried a “tuition-lock” program to shield students from cost increases. He said this approach “really hasn’t moved the needle” in terms of attracting students — enrollment decreased this fall. On top of that, holding the line on student fees has contributed to a fiscal crisis at ISU.

Richard Westerberg recognized the pressures on the state’s institutions — such as inflation, and the need to reward employees with pay raises. But he also reminded the board that many high school graduates are turning away from college as it is.

In the end, the board approved the fee increases on a 5-3 vote. Hill, Linda Clark, Emma Atchley, Andrew Scoggin and state superintendent Sherri Ybarra voted yes. Westerberg, Debbie Critchfield and Don Soltman voted no.

A continuing cost shift

“I don’t believe we heard a single frivolous request today,” Clark, the board’s president, said before Wednesday’s vote.

Nonetheless, the fee increases shift a little bit more of the cost of higher education to students and parents — a trend decades in the making. In the meeting packet presented to the board before Wednesday’s vote, State Board staff spelled out the implications of this shift.

“The average cost to attend Idaho’s four-year institutions has grown from $15,813 in 2008 to $20,602 in 2018, or 30 percent, while the Idaho per capita income has increased from $32,580 to $40,444, or 24 percent,” board staff wrote.

Even though Idaho’s tuition costs are among the lowest in the nation, as noted by the College Board, Scoggin still wishes there was a way to freeze or reduce student costs. But, he noted, “that requires a body other than this to appropriate more money.”

The annual tuition and fee decision comes weeks after the governor and the Legislature set the higher education budget for the upcoming year — a fact that wasn’t lost on board members.

Nor was it lost on Boise State student body president Kaleb Smith, who addressed the board before the vote.

Like other student leaders, Smith talked about the need to invest in higher education. He clicked off a list of needs at Boise State, from need-based scholarships to staff support for American Indian students.

And Smith said he didn’t believe anyone at Wednesday’s meeting wanted to push the cost of college onto the backs of students the state wants to see succeed.

“Yet here we all are, forced to do so by a state with the capability to change,” he said.

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