Tuition freeze announcement all

Idaho State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield speaks at the state Capitol on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019; at left is Idaho State University President Kevin Satterlee; from right are Lewis-Clark State College President Cynthia Pemberton; Boise State University President Marlene Tromp; and University of Idaho President Scott Green.

BOISE — Idaho’s four public college and university presidents came together Thursday to announce they’ll freeze undergraduate in-state tuition and fees for next year at this year’s level — the first-such statewide freeze in 43 years.

“We must begin in earnest to address the issue of higher education affordability,” Idaho State University President Kevin Satterlee said.

The new presidents of ISU, Boise State University, the University of Idaho and Lewis-Clark State College have been meeting as a presidents’ council and came up with the idea. Based on recent increases, the announcement means UI and ISU are giving up $2 million to $3 million in potential revenue next year at a time when they’re already being asked to cut their budgets.

BSU’s total will be larger, as it has more students, while LCSC’s will be smaller, with its smaller student body.

“This will result in serious budget strains on all of our campuses,” Idaho State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield said, “but I applaud the presidents and trust their skills as administrators to find ways to balance the need for quality education while taking this step to help preserve access and affordability for Idaho students.”

She commended the presidents, but noted the move is just the beginning of a conversation on “long-term, sustainable funding for higher education.”

“There is no question that the value that our students have in Idaho is exceptional,” she said.

Satterlee said Idaho’s public college tuition rates rank low, with only seven states lower.

Critchfield noted that tuition has been covering a fast-growing share of the costs of higher education in Idaho, as the proportion of state funding has fallen and costs have increased.

According to state budget documents, Idaho’s general fund appropriation for higher education grew by 11.9% in the 10 years from fiscal year 2009 to fiscal year 2019, following the deep cuts of the recession. In the same time period, student tuition and fees charged by higher education institutions grew by 155.3%.

“We are grateful the state is continuing to invest in higher education, but when we discuss a long-term plan, we must acknowledge that state funding hasn’t recovered to pre-recession levels while internal costs at the universities keep increasing,” Critchfield said. “Board members and the presidents look forward to working with policy makers to develop strategies for a sustainable funding model that moves students and Idaho forward.”

Critchfield said 40 years ago, state funding covered 88% of the cost of higher education in Idaho, and student tuition just 7%. Today, state funding covers 51% of costs and tuition revenue covers 47%.

Satterlee, who chairs the Presidents’ Leadership Council, said he, UI President C. Scott Green, BSU President Marlene Tromp and LCSC President Cynthia Pemberton are continuing to meet to work on how to improve higher education as a whole in Idaho.

“There is a shared commitment among all of us,” Satterlee said. “This system is born not of competition,” but of “collaboration and coordination. Ultimately, we will work to create what clearly can be a new and more effective ecosystem of higher education in Idaho.”

Critchfield said when all four were hired within the past two years, the board had included collaboration between Idaho’s higher education institutions as a system among its criteria for selecting the new presidents.

Said state board member Andy Scoggin, “I’ve been incredibly impressed working with these university presidents over the last several months, how much they’re into the detail of both the cost and the quality of the education. … They take this on as a Priority 1 mission. We’re very proud of the work that they’re doing.”

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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