Turning to higher education, Gov. Butch Otter told lawmakers that he’s recommending hiring an “executive officer to coordinate the work of all our higher education institutions,” a change he said “will upend the status quo.”
The move is aimed at finding “tens of millions of dollars in efficiencies,” he said, “savings that can be used for scholarships and new initiatives. That includes creating a statewide digital campus to better keep pace with continuing change in what we need our higher education system to deliver.”
He added, “I want to emphasize that what we’re talking about here is not a chancellor system with schools becoming campuses of a single university.” Such a change, he said, would be “overly disruptive.”
“This is not a reflection on our State Board of Education members or the leadership of our institutions,” Otter said. “The system itself is slow to adapt and too good at perpetuating the status quo. It simply is not equipped or empowered to make the big management changes needed to achieve our 60-percent goal. Without these changes, we very likely will make no more progress toward that goal in the next ten years than we have in the past seven.” That goal is to have more of Idaho’s adults go on to complete some form of education beyond high school, whether it’s a four-year college degree or a technical certificate; Otter today called it a "moon-shot goal."
Otter’s budget includes a $769,500 line item for “integration of higher education systems.” Of that, $500,000 is for a contractor to study ways to integrate and combine services across higher education institutions in Idaho; the rest is for pay and benefits for the new CEO, whose salary would be $200,000 a year.
Otter drew applause from lawmakers when he said the changes will result in "less working from isolated silos, and more rowing in the same direction."
Overall, Otter is recommending just a 2.28 percent increase in general funds for the state’s four-year colleges and universities next year; he’s calling for a 15.31 percent boost to funding for community colleges, including a $10 million transfer to the Permanent Building Funding for a new health and science building at the fast-growing College of Western Idaho.
He’s also proposing a $5 million boost to the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which would enable nearly 1,500 more scholarship awards; and allowing a portion of that scholarship to be used for adults returning to college to complete their degrees. Currently, he said, fewer than half of the eligible applicants for the scholarship programs are getting scholarships. "We can and should do more," he said, drawing applause.