Idaho colleges aim for higher tuition, again

Rising costs, pay raises and expanding programs contribute to requests from the state's institutions.

broberts@idahostatesman.comMarch 22, 2014 

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PATRICK DAVIS — Idaho Statesman graphic

Full-time Idaho students will pay between $116 and $384 more a year to attend a state four-year university or college if the State Board of Education signs off on requested tuition increases.

Proposed increases come as the four schools - Boise State University, the University of Idaho, Idaho State University and Lewis-Clark State College - announced enrollment declines last fall. Boise State enrollment declined by 3 percent from 2012, to 22,003 students in fall 2013. University of Idaho enrollment dropped 5 percent to 11,844 students. ISU enrollment fell 3.4 percent to 14,494.

Declining enrollment means fewer tuition dollars for schools, but institutions are still trying to keep up with faculty hiring needs from previous growth and on rising fixed costs, administrators say.

Proposed annual tuitions and fees from the schools are:

• Boise State University: $6,676, up 6.1 percent from $6,292.

• University of Idaho: $6,832, up 4.7 percent from $6,524.

• Idaho State University: $6,566, up 3.5 percent from $6,344.

• Lewis-Clark State College: $5,900, up 2 percent from $5,784.

Tuition will be set by the State Board of Education at its April meeting at the University of Idaho.

Some board members say they have heard rising tuition may be pricing some students out.

"I think we have experienced over time meaningful increases," said Rod Lewis, a board member from Eagle. "We are all going to be asking ourselves this year the extent to which any increases are really appropriate."

Board members often reduce university tuition requests during fee hearings, but generally give the schools much of what they ask.

UP, UP AND UP

Tuition and fees at the four schools have risen nonstop for at least the past two decades. Some annual increases have been in double digits.

State appropriations to the schools failed to keep pace with growth, and they declined as Idaho went through the recession and its slow-growth aftermath. Tuition has climbed from covering 17 percent of public higher education spending in Idaho in 1994 to 47 percent in 2014.

One possibly bright spot: The proposed increases for fall 2014 are the smallest in years at the U of I, ISU and LCSC.

"We are keeping it as low as we can to keep access (to the school)," said Chet Herbst, vice president for finance and administration at LCSC in Lewiston.

At BSU, the proposal is less than the school requested last year for full-time students. BSU is changing its pricing model to phase out its practice of relying on part-time students to help subsidize full-time ones. The change is so students pay the cost of their own education. Students taking 12 credit hours or less will see smaller increases than student taking 13 to 17 credits. But the overall tuition increase is about 3 percent, school officials say.

Idaho's average annual tuition is about in the middle of the range in 15 western states, according to the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education.

In 2013-14, Idaho's average tuition for four-year institutions was $6,236. The lowest was Wyoming at $4,404. The highest was Arizona at $10,027.

While tuitions are comparatively low, Idaho ranks at the bottom of the country in wages, which can strain Idahoans' ability to afford even a relatively low tuition.

"What you have to be asking is not what the dollar cost is, but what's affordable to your citizens given their disposable incomes," said Brian Greber, a BSU adjunct professor in economics.

WHAT'S DRIVING PROPOSED INCREASES?

• BSU is proposing to put $2 million in tuition revenue toward furthering the state's requirement of increasing the percentage of Idahoans ages 25 to 34 with postsecondary degrees or certificates to 60 percent by 2020. The money would be used to relieve a shortage of courses in fields such as chemistry and biology that can slow a student's progress, sometimes requiring an extra semester or two before graduation.

BSU also will use tuition revenue for about $1 million in pay increases approved by the Legislature.

Lawmakers contributed some money toward the raise but directed that a portion come from tuition, college officials said.

• The University of Idaho needs about $1.1 million in tuition revenue to cover its share of the pay raises. The school is also putting several hundred thousand dollars from tuition into expanding the Boise branch of its law school. The university now lets some students take the third year of law school in Boise; the added money would pay for a second year, too.

• ISU wants to beef up its Career Path Internship program, which now puts nearly 700 students into work environments with professionals while they are still completing their academic work. A specific dollar amount hasn't been set.

• LCSC's increase would generate $320,000. About $302,000 would cover part of the state's pay raise and increased health insurance cost not covered by the state. No new programs are planned.

Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts

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