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Board slows Idaho tuition hikes

Idaho’s state Board of Education on Wednesday approved the lowest tuition increases for the state’s four-year colleges and universities in the last 15 years.

At the University of Idaho, for example, the move to slow the ever-rising cost of college means students will see tuition and fees rise by 3.5 percent next year. That growth will help pay for salary and benefit increases approved by state lawmakers this year.

“We know cost is a significant barrier to higher education, so we have worked with our college and university leadership to minimize tuition and fee increases for our students,” said Emma Atchley, state board president. “We are balancing making higher education as affordable as possible and providing the programs students need to be employable, but we cannot expect them to carry the entire burden of additional costs.”

University of Idaho President Chuck Staben offered in January to freeze university tuition next year, if lawmakers would cover the full costs universities will face for the 3 percent raises they approved for state workers next year, including those at universities. Undergraduate resident tuition at the UI has been rising each year for more than two decades; employee costs take up 75 to 80 percent of its budget.

Lawmakers declined Staben’s offer. They have made such moves in the past, called “fund shifts,” including in nine of the past 18 years, but not once since the economic downturn hit in 2008. The budget they approved for Idaho’s colleges and universities next year shows an overall increase in state funds of 3 percent; Gov. Butch Otter signed it into law Friday.

“The board and the university share a commitment to accessible, affordable education,” Staben said Wednesday. “This modest increase allows us to maintain quality at moderate costs to Idaho students and families.”

The state board’s goal is that 60 percent of Idahoans age 25 to 34 have higher education degrees or certificates by the year 2020, but the state has a long way to go to reach that mark. State board members noted that tuition and fees now cover 48 percent of the operating costs at Idaho’s state colleges and universities, though they remain affordable compared to other western states.


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