A decline in enrollment by Middle Eastern students in the past few years has left Idaho State University with a $12 million shortfall, President Arthur Vailas told legislative budget writers Tuesday.
“We are one of the many schools in the United States that had a significant impact on the change in policies of student scholarships from the Middle East,” Vailas told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. “It’s a 35 percent decline, and of course that’s going to impact revenue.
“At the same time, we continue to get slight increases in nonresident domestic [enrollment]. But that decline ended up in a shortfall of $12 million.”
The university is adjusting, he said: “We have a very good plan. We believe we will be able to rebalance revenue and expenses in the future. We’re very comfortable we’ll be able to maintain that balance.”
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At one point, ISU had 1,200 Saudi and Kuwaiti students, almost 10 percent of its enrollment, up from just 16 such students in 2006.
There were concerns about cultural, language and academic challenges, and complaints of discrimination and harassment. A New York Times article last March reported on a culture clash at the Pocatello university that grew as the university increased its dependence on Saudi and Kuwait students to replace income lost from declines in local enrollment and state funding.
Last spring, the Saudi government announced deep cuts in its scholarship program that supports foreign students, including those at U.S. institutions.
A university official told the Times that cuts in scholarships from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait would mean no Middle Eastern freshmen would arrive in Pocatello this fall, cutting enrollment by more than 250, on top of 100 Saudi students who already had chosen to leave.
Vailas backs Otter’s budget
In other comments, Vailas said he favored Gov. Butch Otter’s budget proposal for higher education for next year. The proposal includes a 2.2 percent increase in state general funds and 1.2 percent in total funds, but actually recommends slightly more for ISU than it requested, at $151.5 million in total funds.
Vailas also spoke strongly in support of Otter’s proposal for a $35 million building program at Idaho university campuses, which is in the state’s Permanent Building Fund budget. “Ten million of that is for ISU,” Vailas said. He called the Gale Life Sciences Building remodel, for which the funds are targeted, “critical.”
“You know we have a significant challenge with our infrastructure,” Vailas told the joint committee. “There’s not going to be ever enough money to catch up. But yet we continuously invest internally in the fixing and repurposing of things to align with the interest of students.”
Vailas also backed the governor’s 3 percent merit-raise proposal for state employees and Otter’s “adult completers” scholarship proposal.
“ISU has quite a few of those,” he said. “We have nontraditional students. … Those that have dropped out, we monitored them and they didn’t go anywhere. They just needed the funds to finish it. So the adult completers program is critical.”