Higher ed seeks $7.8 million to address inflation, pay raises

To keep pace with inflation and offer competitive salaries, Idaho’s colleges and universities say they need help.

And they want some $7.8 million to help cover these costs.

The requests went to Gov. Brad Little’s budget team; like all other state agencies, the colleges and universities were required to turn in their spending plans by Sept. 1.

All eight two- and four-year schools asked for similar line items — to cover what is called “operational capacity enhancement,” in budget parlance.

Getting past the jargon, let’s look more closely at the requests, obtained by Idaho Education News last week. Here’s what the colleges and universities want, and how they would spend the money:

Boise State University: $2.5 million.

The money would go entirely into staff salaries, and offset the university’s costs of providing pay raises. The state approves higher ed pay raises, but it doesn’t fully fund these raises, leaving the colleges and universities to siphon off tuition money to cover the balance.

Since 2020, Boise State says it has absorbed more than $10 million in salary and benefit costs.

And despite it all, Boise State says it is dealing with 20% annual turnover rates, “as employees leave to double or even triple their salaries in equivalent positions with local companies.”

University of Idaho: $2.1 million.

The bulk of this money, $1.4 million, would go into salaries, especially at the lower end of the pay scale. These raises are needed to keep up with the job market, and help keep pace with inflation.

The rest of the money would cover six full-time positions in U of I’s cybersecurity programs. In three years, the undergraduate and graduate programs have grown rapidly, taking on 95 students. The programs are at teaching capacity — at a time when other states are aggressively expanding into this high-growth field. “With a meaningful investment from the state of Idaho, our state’s higher education institutions will have the resources to compete, and to attract and retain cybersecurity faculty and students.”

Idaho State University: $1.9 million.

The money would grow a pair of programs — and pay for a total of 14 full-time positions.

Idaho State wants to add to its student retention program, adding four academic advisers and several support positions. “Current caseloads of up to 400 students per advisor … can impact students’ ability to stay in school.”

Idaho State also wants to add faculty in high-demand physician’s assistant and registered nursing programs.

Lewis-Clark State College: $440,000.

About half of this money would be used to head off tuition increases, by covering the cost of pay raises and operations. Another $160,000 would cover move-in costs and staffing a new career-technical center.

Meanwhile, about $61,000 would go into marketing and promotional efforts, designed to help Lewis-Clark protect its market share against unaccredited for-profit online schools. “Who benefits when awareness about a high-value product at an affordable price is increased?” Lewis-Clark said in its budget request. “Everyone (except those who are offering low value products at unaffordable prices).”

College of Western Idaho: $275,000.

This money would go into salaries for the college’s 400 adjunct faculty members, and its 105 employees in student support positions, such as advisers and financial aid specialists.  

College of Southern Idaho: $257,000.

The money would be used to boost pay in select positions.

“In many cases, our top candidates turn down the position once housing and other costs are considered. … We are not currently competitive in the market.”

North Idaho College: $201,000.

This money would be used to cover state-approved pay raises, without dipping into other funds. “We have made strides catching up to the local labor market pay rates, but (we) still are not competitive.”

College of Eastern Idaho: $97,000.

The money would go into personnel costs. The college’s budget request provides no additional detail.

All told, the four-year schools are requesting nearly $364.3 million in state tax money — a sum that doesn’t include student tuition and fees. This state funding increase would come to 2.9%.

The community colleges — which also collect tuition and local property taxes — have asked for a $62.7 million budget, a 3% increase.

The college and university requests mark the first step in a months-long process.

In January, Gov. Brad Little will present his budget recommendations to lawmakers.

Later that month, the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will hear budget pitches from all of the college and university presidents. By March, the committee will write up budget bills for the higher ed system — proposals that need to pass both houses before they can go to the governor’s desk.

More reading: Get details on state superintendent Debbie Critchfield’s K-12 budget request.

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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