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Idaho college, university presidents announce tuition freeze

UPDATED: Fri., Dec. 13, 2019

By Justyna Tomtas Lewiston Tribune

For the first time in more than four decades, Idaho students will not have to pay an increase in tuition and fees if they attend one of the state’s colleges or universities next year.

During a Boise-based news conference Thursday, the presidents of Idaho’s four-year institutions announced a tuition freeze for the 2020-21 school year for in-state undergraduate students. Nor will there be a fee increase.

Idaho State University President Kevin Satterlee spoke on behalf of the presidents, stating discussions on the tuition freeze started last spring.

“(Students in Idaho) deserve an education that is going to challenge them as individuals, inspire them to make positive change in our communities and, ultimately, they deserve an education that will better their lives,” Satterlee said. “We must begin in earnest to address the issue of higher education affordability.”

The cost of attending a higher education institution in Idaho is lower than in many other states already. According to Satterlee, only seven states offer lower in-state tuition rates.

But the annual increases to tuition and fees have become burdensome for students.

“It is a fact that Idaho students and their families are picking up much more of the cost to operate our institutions,” Idaho State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield said. “Forty years ago, state funding covered 88 percent and tuition revenue paid 7 percent of that cost. Today, the numbers are nearly even.”

State funding currently covers 51 percent of costs, while tuition revenue pays for 47 percent.

In April, the Idaho State Board of Education approved a 5.6 percent increase in tuition for full-time, in-state undergraduate students at the University of Idaho and a 5.5 percent increase at Lewis-Clark State College. Those increases went into effect for the 2019-20 school year, putting annual tuition at $6,982 for LCSC students and $8,304 for students at UI, where it will remain for the coming year.

Presidents and board members alike agreed that the tuition freeze will bring challenges at a time when higher education institutions struggle with financial constraints, but Satterlee said they remain committed to the change.

“While undoubtedly we will need to navigate fiscal challenges associated with this decision, LC State is proud to partner with our sister institutions, the State Board of Education, the Idaho Legislature and the Office of the Governor in this collaborative effort,” LCSC President Cynthia Pemberton said in a news release. “Together, I’m confident we can continue to find ways to serve the needs of students, industry and Idaho.”

Critchfield said the move is “markedly different” than what has happened in the past, adding the presidents had followed through on a pledge they made to contain tuition costs.

It’s the first time in at least 43 years that there will be no increase in tuition and fees.

The last time the State Board of Education approved tuition increases at all of the institutions, board member Andrew Scoggin challenged the presidents to find a way to not raise tuition in the future.

“I’m incredibly impressed with these university presidents,” Scoggin said Thursday.

The synergy between the four new presidents at UI, LCSC, ISU and Boise State University allowed the change to take place, Critchfield said.

The tuition freeze will come into effect at the same time as Gov. Brad Little’s instruction to agencies to reduce budgets by 2 percent.

Satterlee said the presidents are working to address those cuts next year without relying on increases in student tuition.

In a news release sent by the state board, Little said he was supportive of the freeze.

“It is absolutely imperative that we do all we can to make higher education within reach for more Idahoans,” Little said. “When we make tuition affordable, increase access to scholarships, and push for efficiencies at the universities, the result is a strengthened workforce and more opportunities for Idahoans to improve their lives. I commend our university presidents and the State Board of Education for sharing my commitment to college affordability in Idaho.”

The tuition freeze will likely cost UI $2 million to $3 million in lost revenue, according to President Scott Green. The decrease will come at a time when the university is working to reduce its budget as its anticipated shortfall is expected to grow to $22 million by 2022.

The amount of money the tuition freeze would cost LCSC was not immediately available, but Pemberton said it would be less than what UI is expected to lose since the Lewiston school has fewer students.

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