State Board takes up debate on simplifying student fees

As the Legislature ponders allowing students to opt-out of some mandatory higher education fees, the State Board of Education is chewing on a different move.

On Thursday the board took up a new policy that would simplify separated student fees, for items such as activities and technology, into one “consolidated mandatory fee.” College and university presidents and board members spoke in favor of the move, saying it would give students a clearer picture of the overall cost to attend school, and give the institutions more room to move funds around to meet student needs.

“We want to allow as much flexibility as reasonable for the institutions to move those monies to where they’re needed, as opposed to putting them in a lot of small little pots and monitoring each pot,” board member Dave Hill said. “That’s not good business practice, in my opinion.”

Hill said colleges and universities have received complaints from students who don’t feel they truly understand in advance how much fees will cost. The new language would require institutions to communicate costs in a “clear and understandable format” before a student enrolls.

Board member Emma Atchley raised questions about whether a consolidated fee would obscure what students actually pay for, or give colleges too much leeway to spend fee money in a way students disagree with. Colleges generally delineate where fees go.

“I would argue not having some specificity would lead to, I don’t know, maybe a tendency to raise fees without adequate justification,” Atchley said. “I would be worried about that.”

Idaho State University President Kevin Satterlee said he thinks the move would actually make fees more transparent.

“It’s so much more transparent to students to say, ‘here is the cost,’ rather than a big list of things that makes students wonder, ‘why am I paying this, why am I paying that?’ and even leads to this legislative problem of students want to opt out of everything,” Satterlee said. “The cost of delivering our entire product is what we want to be transparent about.”

House Bill 116, sponsored by Rep. Julie Yamamoto, would allow students to opt out of some fees. She brought the bill because a family member questioned why her nephew at Boise State University would have to pay for fees that don’t directly benefit him. The Caldwell Republican listed a number of examples of potentially avoidable fees, such as costs for a diversity and inclusion center, club sports, childcare or minority student programs. The bill would not allow students to opt out of fees that go toward intercollegiate athletics, the campus health center, or information technology.

Satterlee and Lewis-Clark State College President Cynthia Pemberton said removing strict designations for fees would give student activities programs more flexibility in moving money around during unforeseen circumstances. At Lewis-Clark, Pemberton said, student leaders are independently asking to consolidate fees. They learned during the pandemic that they need more flexibility — perhaps to shift money from canceled student conferences to pay for scholarships. Currently, that’s not an option.

“We may not be in a pandemic again like this in the immediate future. … What we’ve learned from this is we need to be better prepared to be flexible and responsive,” Pemberton said. “That’s a powerful message and our students have heard it.”

The board has been working on the policy rewrite for the better part of 10 months, State Board Executive Director Matt Freeman said. If the Legislature passes HB 116, he said, the board can continue conversations with lawmakers about potential changes.

“These aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive,” Freeman said.

The board approved the first reading of the proposed policy on Thursday.

Board adopts high school assessment recommendations

The State Board also made a move toward changing the timeframe for high school students to take standardized tests, and removing the college entrance exam as a high school graduation requirement.

On Wednesday the board adopted recommendations to administer ISAT tests during a student’s junior year, rather than sophomore year. It will also review graduation requirements, which include completing an SAT or ACT test. Idaho foots the bill for all students to take an SAT.

Changing these requirements for good takes an extended amendment process. That process will start in the spring, board spokesman Mike Keckler said, and takes close to a year to complete.

Sami Edge

Sami Edge

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