For more than a century, the University of Idaho hasn’t been able to charge “tuition” to its students - but like other Idaho institutions of higher learning, it’s increasingly charged “fees” instead. In 2005, the Legislature cleared other state universities to charge tuition - fees that students pay specifically to cover the cost of instruction. But the U of I was left out of that, because of restrictions that date back to territorial law. Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, said it’s time to end that obsolete distinction.
“In this budgetary climate, the University of Idaho cannot manage their budget in the most efficient manner, because they are restricted from using any fees for instructional purposes, unlike all the other institutions,” Stegner told the Senate. He’s co-sponsoring SJR 101, a constitutional amendment, with Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes, House Speaker Lawerence Denney and House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, to allow tuition at UI. “It is not anticipated that this would increase tuition charged at the University of Idaho,” Stegner noted. The university still would have to seek state Board of Education approval for fee increases, just as it does now. Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said he strongly opposed the change in 2005, because he objects to placing “more of the burden for the cost of an education onto the students’ shoulders.” But at this point, he said, the issue is a simple one of equity between UI and the other colleges and universities.
The Senate voted 32-2 in favor of SJR 101, which now moves to the House. The two no’s came from Sens. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, and Melinda Smyser, R-Parma. Constitutional amendments need two-thirds approval in each house of the Legislature, plus a majority vote of the people at the next election, to take effect.