As the first official student lobbyist for the Associated Students of Boise State University, I have the honor of representing the political voice of 23,886 students this upcoming Idaho Legislature session. When I began the job back in spring of this year, my first mission was to find an issue affecting all Broncos equally.
Almost immediately, I knew tuition and investment in higher education was going to be that issue. Between fiscal years 2008-2013, Idaho legislators cut per-student funding by nearly 40 percent. Ironically, it’s also an area largely devoid of any real student leadership and voice since the cuts were made. When I investigated further, I stumbled upon a startling statistic that is one of the best kept secrets regarding higher education funding in Idaho.
The number is 63 percent — the amount Boise State gets per full-time equivalent student when compared to what the University of Idaho receives, per the Idaho legislative budget appropriation for the 2017 fiscal year. All this despite Boise State educating 5,600 more Idaho undergraduate students than the University of Idaho.
This fiscal year, Boise State received $5,824 per FTE undergraduate student, while the University of Idaho received $9,257. When the math is done, that amounts to a near $53 million funding gap. This crucial disparity in state investment leads to a plethora of advantages, including the ability for the University of Idaho to be more flexible and generous in regards to financial support of their students — including more scholarships, more classes, faster graduation times and ultimately less student debt.
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Now — to be absolutely clear — this piece wasn’t written to create an “us-versus-them” mentality in regards to the funding of higher education. In fact, we at ASBSU and Boise State recognize the tremendous role the University of Idaho plays in educating our workforce, keeping our state strong and economically competitive. Under no circumstance would I or any other member of our student body representatives endorse a solution that would strip current funding away from other universities to give more funding to Boise State.
That said, the latest projection of state revenues shows a surplus of $132 million. This is a perfect opportunity for the governor and the Legislature to invest in our future by making amends and restoring the massive cuts to higher education made during the recession.
This is about economic priorities. Allocating more money toward higher education is literally an investment for all Idahoans. In 2013-2014, a study found that for every dollar invested in higher education, taxpayers received $5 in return. Study after study shows the economic benefits of investing in higher education in a 21st century economy. In that same year, nearly $4.1 billion was put into the Idaho economy.
Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders, of that there is no doubt. As such, it’s time for the Idaho Legislature to have a serious discussion with all stakeholders involved, particularly students, about increasing investment in higher education and equitably funding our schools.
Josh Scholer is student lobbyist for the Associated Students of Boise State University.