Richard Westerberg, president of the State Board of Education, told legislative budget writers this morning, “Obviously the last three years have been difficult economic times.” At the state's colleges and universities, student fees have risen for the past four years while state funding has dropped, he noted. The schools have also had to eliminate an array of programs; in the past three years, 72 degree programs, 13 minors or certificate programs, and 28 professional-technical ed programs have been eliminated; there are another 20 requests pending to discontinue degree programs this year. Westerberg said the moves have been part of an appropriate streamlining and consolidating in higher ed programs in Idaho.
“We've really shown significant progress in reducing the cost per credit-hour,” he said. That cost for four-year institutions in Idaho was $167 in fiscal year 2011, down from $213 in fiscal year 2008. Meanwhile, he said universities have also helped boost the state's economy, securing $415 million in federal grants and contracts in fiscal year 2012. “I know the last three years have been difficult,” Westerberg told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. He urged lawmakers to invest more in education, now that the state's finances are improving. “We do believe it's a great investment, and we do believe the education community is working hard on maximizing that investment,” he said. JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, responded, “We agree.”