Students at Idaho’s state colleges and universities will pay more next year, but the tuition and fee increases approved Wednesday by the state Board of Education are considerably lower than the stiff increases of recent years, and board members said the schools are still a bargain.
“We’re still under most of our sister institutions throughout the United States,” said state board member Milford Terrell. “We’re still the best deal in town.”
The state board, meeting in Moscow, voted unanimously to approve tuition increases as requested by state colleges and universities; in some years, the board has shaved back the requests. The schools covered by the increases include the University of Idaho in Moscow, Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Boise State University, Idaho State University in Pocatello and Eastern Idaho Technical College in Idaho Falls.
All the votes were unanimous except on the U of I and BSU increases – 6.1 percent and 5.7 percent, respectively - which passed on 5-2 votes, after board member Ken Edmunds of Twin Falls said he worried that state lawmakers expected lower increases. “Regardless of what’s happening in other states, the barrier to our students is significant … due to financial issues,” Edmunds said. He and board President Richard Westerberg cast the only dissenting votes.
University of Idaho President Duane Nellis told the board the UI’s proposed 6.1 percent increase is “a very important figure to help us stabilize our situation after four years of cuts.”
Samantha Perez, student body president, said students have been strongly supportive of the plan. “I haven’t received one verbal or written complaint about the proposal,” she said.
Nellis said even after the increase, the UI’s tuition and fees next year of $6,212 will be far below the average among comparable schools of $8,300.
Student body officials from the schools backed the increases; among their reasons: If the schools can’t hire enough instructors for them to get the classes they need, they can’t graduate on time, and their education will cost even more.
BSU President Bob Kustra told the board, “We are all dealing with what is a balancing act, balancing affordability against the quality of the education we are able to afford our students.”
He noted, “We are agonizing here over what is … some of the most modest, affordable, bargain-rated tuitions anywhere in the United States of America. That’s really a credit, I think, to this board, it’s a credit to the universities the board holds responsible that we can do what we do with the minimum expenditure from our students when it comes to tuition.”
Kustra also credited state lawmakers for passing a more generous higher education budget this year, but noted that parts of the increase they approved for next year – like the new $5 million IGEM university research initiative – can’t be used to cover costs for educating undergraduate students. “We appreciate the increase, but recognize it’s for different things,” he said.
State funding for Idaho higher education next year, while up 8.6 percent from this year, will still lag below where Idaho funded the state’s colleges and universities in 2006; the colleges have been hard-hit by repeated state funding cuts.
Idaho Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna, a state board member, said he’d support the tuition increases, but he objects to using past years’ cuts as justification for future increases. “Everyone’s budgets have been cut the last few years – that’s just the reality that we’re living in,” he said.
Terrell said, “To me this is about kids, it’s about good education.”
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