Adequate funding, or the lack thereof, was the topic of conversation at the Legislature in recent days as Idaho’s university presidents took turns making their cases to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee during Higher Education Week. State funding for higher education has not been a priority in recent years, having decreased from where it was just 10 years ago, while funding for many other state entities has significantly increased over the same time.
A case in point is Boise State University, where state support over the past 10 years has dropped from 33 percent of the budget to just 18 percent.
In addition, the Enrollment Workload Adjustment — a state formula to support enrollment growth — has not been consistently funded from year to year. Because Boise State leads the state in enrollment increases during recent years, our students do not have the same level of financial support that students at other Idaho schools do. In fact, our students are dead last in per-student funding when compared to our sister institutions in the state, even when adjusted for the differences in research and graduate programming.
The State Board of Education recognized this with its recent recommendation to the governor that his highest budget priority for higher education should be funding equity among Idaho’s universities and colleges.
Unfortunately, the governor rejected the State Board’s recommendation. In my remarks to JFAC last week, I spelled out our dilemma and the challenge it presents a growing university attempting to serve the most populated region in Idaho with a growing tech economy dependent on more programming and more graduates. Unfunded growth from 2008 to the present totals $10.3 million for Boise State alone.
It was reassuring to hear that JFAC leadership understands the funding challenge before us, and together with the State Board’s leadership, I do hope the state of Idaho can recognize and reward the enormous contribution Boise State has made to the state and regional economy.
One thing is for sure — Boise State can make the strongest case for the equity funding it has thus far been denied. Our academic growth since 2001 is impressive. The number of doctoral programs offered has quadrupled, the number of master’s degree programs has more than doubled, and digital learning has expanded to encompass 13 fully online programs.
Boise State awards 41 percent of all of degrees granted annually by Idaho public higher education institutions.
To help fund this growth, we have successfully utilized reserves and nonappropriated funding to support new initiatives. By planning ahead, setting aside reserves and improving operating efficiencies (such as increasing class sizes, teaching loads and staff workloads), we have managed to continue to fund key priorities. We also have added several self-support graduate programs where the students pay the full cost with no state support.
On Friday, Idaho Business for Education released its report, “Field Guide to Education in Idaho.” As the report shows, we clearly have systemic problems in Idaho education, and it identifies shortcomings in persistence and retention in higher education.
There are many reasons for Idaho’s shortcomings in the education arena, but I know from serving as Boise State’s president that resources fairly distributed among Idaho’s students and schools would make a big difference in our success.
The students we educate today will provide the next generation of leadership for Idaho’s economy and its communities. Let’s not shortchange our future by making incremental decisions in the state budget that force Idaho to remain near the bottom of states contributing to the national priority of producing graduates who can participate in a fiercely competitive global economy.
This column appeared in the Sunday Idaho Statesman.