Idaho State University wants to lock down tuition for qualified freshmen beginning in the fall.
A plan announced by Gov. Butch Otter and ISU President Arthur Vailas on Thursday would mean that freshman Idaho residents taking at least 15 credits and seeking a degree would not see tuition rise over the next four years.
Vailas volunteered for the tuition lock after the Idaho Legislature turned its back on a similar proposal from Otter for the state’s four-year schools earlier this year.
Both Vailas and Otter hope the pilot program will show that tuition locks makes college costs “affordable, it makes it predictable,” the governor said.
The program would cover only four years of education, with exceptions made for students who leave for military service or religious missions.
The plan still must be approved by the Idaho State Board of Education, likely at its April 13-14 meeting in Moscow, when the board sets tuition for the universities.
Boise State University spokesman Greg Hahn said the school is committed to affordable education. “We look forward to learning from Idaho State’s experiment with tuition lock,” he said.
The University of Idaho has no plans to try it, a spokesman said.
Otter’s initial proposal provided a safety net for Idaho’s four-year schools. He asked legislators to come up with the difference between the locked-down tuition and the actual cost increases the universities faced. Longtime state Rep. Maxine Bell, co-chair of the Legislature’s budget committee, called the proposal “a foolish commitment” and it never gained traction among lawmakers.
Vailas and ISU, however, would be working without a net — no guaranteed backup money to cover rising costs. But he said he might pursue getting help from lawmakers.
One of the criticisms against the tuition-lock concept is that schools use them to front-load tuition dollars — raise tuition sharply to help a university recover the money it loses during the locked period.
“We are not front-loading the tuition,” Vailas said.
ISU is asking the State Board of Education for a 2.5 percent tuition increase for next school year, to $5,242. The board would have to approve both the tuition increase and the tuition lock.
ISU’s tuition lock does not apply to fees, which are $1,714 for the next school year.
Vailas also sees locked tuition as a tool in ISU’s competition with BYU-Idaho, 78 miles north in Rexburg, and Utah State University, 95 miles to the south in Logan, Utah.
Will tuition lock draw more students? “We hope it will,” Vailas said. “It is one of a number of financial benefits.”
Both Vailas and Otter said they hope the pilot will answer questions about the validity of the idea.
“When we went through the legislative process, there was, I think, a lot of misunderstanding,” Otter said. “All of the things we asked for in tuition locks with the Legislature we are going to put in practice at Idaho State University.”