Tuition freeze continues — but gets a chilly response from one student leader

Boise State University
Posted at 1:09 PM, Apr 21, 2022

This article was originally published by Kevin Richert in Idaho Education News.

On Wednesday, Boise State University’s student body president said a tuition freeze was a bad idea.

Kenneth Huston said he could understand the political pressures — and the push to hold the line on tuition for a third successive year. But he said he believed higher education had been “strongarmed” into an unsustainable increase, which will only leave future students facing an even bigger tuition increase in the future.

“This freeze is a mere sandbag on the shoreline, trying to stop a tsunami,” Huston told the State Board of Education, meeting on the University of Idaho campus.

Kenneth Huston

Minutes later, the State Board made the 2022-23 freeze official — in a unanimous and anticlimactic vote.

On March 2, the presidents of Idaho’s four four-year schools pledged to hold the line on in-state, undergraduate tuition, if lawmakers approved the higher education budget bill that came out of the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee that day. The budget passed, providing a $25 million increase for higher education.

But while tuition isn’t going up, mandatory student fees will increase — by as little as $14 at Lewis-Clark State College, and by as much $304 at Boise State.

Combining tuition and fees, here’s what Idaho students will pay this fall.

InstitutionTuition and feesChangePercentage change
University of Idaho$8,396$560.7%
Boise State University$8,364$3043.8%
Idaho State University$7,958$861.1%
Lewis-Clark State College$6,996$140.2%

The fees fall under a broad heading — “consolidated mandatory fees.” They can cover everything from the student union building to the student health center to intercollegiate and intramural sports.

One recurring theme: The fee increases will bankroll some campus pay raises. The higher education budget funds a state-approved 5% pay raise for most campus employees. But some employees work on programs supported by student fees — so the fee hikes will cover these employee raises.

Universities will use the fee increases to cover other needs.

Idaho State University is facing an unexpected increase in electrical bills, exceeding $500,000, President Kevin Satterlee said. “There is no accounting for it in the legislative appropriation.”

Boise State will use some of its $4.9 million in fee increases to cover significant equity issues in student athletics, and hiring staff to address student mental health needs, said Jo Ellen DiNucci, Boise State’s associate vice president for finance and administration.

The fee increases come as the state launches a fee opt-out policy. Passed by the State Board in February, the policy will allow students to opt out of fees for activities, clubs and organizations.

Asked about the opt-out policy, Lewis-Clark student body president Caden Massey said he was worried about how the change would affect clubs and activities that are central to campus lifestyle.

“There’s a minority population that’s OK with it,” he said. “It’s definitely not a good thing. … (But) we’re going to play with the hand dealt.”

For the State Board, both tuition and fees are a politically charged issue.

The board adopted a fee opt-out policy after lawmakers floated the idea in 2021. And the promise of another tuition freeze was a talking point in this session’s higher education budget debate — as lawmakers passed a spending plan over the objections of conservatives who sought budget cuts.

State Board President Kurt Liebich walked the political fine line Wednesday. As the board began its tuition and fee discussion, he commended lawmakers for acting on Gov. Brad Little’s “very generous” budget proposal. “It was a nice signal from our Legislature that they are supportive of what our higher education institutions are doing.”

But after Huston’s remarks, Liebich said he could understand the concerns about a freeze — and he urged Huston and classmates to get involved in the May 17 primary elections.

“The only way to get real, lasting change is to elect people who care,” Liebich said.

Green touts fundraising, enrollment numbers

The University of Idaho is on track for a record fundraising year, President C. Scott Green told the State Board Wednesday.

The record fundraising year should significantly eclipse last year’s $54.4 million mark, Green said while delivering the U of I’s annual report.

Green also said the U of I is closing in on $100 million in scholarship and student success programs, largely through donations to the “Brave. Bold.” scholarship program. Much of this money will be treated as an endowment program.

Green also touted another promising trend: enrollment.

On the heels of a 5% enrollment increase this year, Green said the U of I’s fall 2022 applications are up by 34%, and admissions are up 18%.

Now the job is to turn these admissions into enrollment in August, Green said. And Green offered one note of caution. In the spring of 2020, the U of I’s applications and admissions were up, pointing to a big enrollment year. That was before the pandemic, and an enrollment erosion across the higher education system.

From fall 2019 through spring 2021, the U of I’s enrollment fell by 11.5%.

Green wasn’t the only president who offered a rosy forecast about a potential enrollment increase.

In-state applications are up by 26% at Boise State, President Marlene Tromp told the board. This potential uptick in in-state students comes as out-of-state enrollment continues to swell at the state’s largest university. Last fall, first-year, out-of-state enrollment exceeded in-state enrollment for the first time in Boise State’s history.