Analysis: This year’s tuition and fee increases, and what they mean

The cost of college in Idaho is going up this fall.

For in-state undergraduates, tuition and fees will increase by 3%, across the board, at all four of Idaho’s four-year schools. Costs are going up as well for graduate students and out-of-state students.

The State Board of Education approved the increases Thursday — unanimously, but with reservations. The new revenue won’t cover rising operating costs, so the four-year schools will still have to save money elsewhere, State Board member Kurt Liebich said.

“We’re still squeezing the orange,” he said. “At some point, you just reach this point of diminishing returns.”

Here’s a closer look at what happened Thursday, and the context.

What’s the bottom line for students?

Meeting in Moscow Thursday, State Board members went along with a series of staff recommendations for 2024-25:

In-state undergrads. With the 3% increases, next year’s tuition and fees break down as follows:

  • University of Idaho: $9,084, a $268 increase.
  • Boise State University: $9,048, a $266 increase.
  • Idaho State University: $8,610, a $254 increase.
  • Lewis-Clark State College: $7,610, a $222 increase.

The size of the across-the-board increases is no coincidence. “This year the institutions were directed to include a fee request for resident undergraduate students of not more than 3%,” according to a State Board staff report, prepared ahead of Thursday’s meeting.

Graduate students. The increases range from 2.3% to 3%. Costs will range from $11,522 at Idaho State to $10,230 at Lewis-Clark.

Out-of-state undergrads. Increases will run from 0.9% to 3%. At $28,320, the U of I will remain the costliest destination for out-of-state students. Lewis-Clark will charge $22,028.

What’s the bottom line for the schools?

It varies.

Boise State anticipates receiving $4.5 million from the increases. The U of I is expecting $2.8 million, Idaho State expects $2.7 million, and Lewis-Clark stands to collect $520,000.

What’s driving the increase?

Two main factors: pay raises and inflation.

The Legislature approved 3% pay raises for all state employees, including higher education faculty and staff. But the state doesn’t fully fund higher ed pay raises, and state dollars don’t even cover the cost of some campus positions.

Salaries are a critical issue at Boise State, for example, where faculty turnover in 2023 approached 8%, and classified staff turnover neared 37%. The state’s appropriations cover only about a third of salary costs, so Boise State says new tuition and fee revenue is “critical” to fully funding pay raises.

The other four-year schools also plan to put a big chunk of their new tuition and fee money into salaries.

Inflation is another recurring theme, particularly at the U of I. After putting the bulk of its new revenue into salaries, the U of I will use close to $600,000 in tuition money to cover its rising costs.

What will this mean for enrollment?

That remains to be seen, of course.

However, enrollment increased across the higher education system last fall — and spring headcounts were up as well. And all of this happened despite a tuition and fee increase — a 5% to 5.6% hike, approved by the State Board last spring.

How does Idaho stack up in terms of college affordability?

Historically, quite well.

In 2023, the annual cost of attending four-year college in Idaho was $23,250, State Board staff said in its report to board members this week. That cost increased by 25% over the decade.

During that same decade, Idaho’s per-capita income increased by 64%, according to the staff report.

Idaho has long landed in the top 10 in national college affordability rankings. Boise State President Marlene Tromp touted that fact Thursday morning, with a caution to State Board members. “That doesn’t mean it’s still not difficult.”

Board members heard a similar message from student leaders like Tanner McClain, a graduating senior wrapping up two years as U of I’s student body president. U of I student leaders reviewed the fees in detail — approving a menu of increases, the largest going toward staff pay. But like State Board members, McClain also expressed misgivings.

“I’m not going to sit here and say it’s not a challenge,” he said. “It’s kind of a sad reality.”

Where does the board go from here?

Also too early to tell.

But on Thursday, board members acknowledged that they are in a tight spot.

For five years, Liebich said, the schools haven’t been able to use tuition and fees to cover rising costs. First, the board and the college and university presidents agreed on a three-year tuition and fee freeze — which stabilized the out-of-pocket costs for students and parents, but put some financial pressure on the schools. This year’s tuition and fee increases didn’t cover the increased costs, Liebich said, and next year’s won’t either.

State superintendent Debbie Critchfield raised another concern. When the state uses tuition and fees to cover costs, it is tying its financial health to the number of students who walk in the door.

“I’m nervous about too much reliance on enrollment,” she said.

But for this year, the stakes are pretty clear. The four schools are expecting to receive $10.5 million in increased tuition and fees. And that hinges on next year’s enrollment.

Kevin Richert writes a weekly analysis on education policy and education politics. Look for his stories each Thursday.

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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