The Idaho State Board of Education approved a 5 percent increase to University of Idaho undergraduate tuition and fees for 2013-2014 — a 0.9 percent lower increase than what UI’s administrators asked for.
The proposed 5.9 percent increase would have brought in an estimated $3.3 million in revenue with enrollment projected to remain the same. The approved 5 percent increase, proposed by SBOE member Richard Westerberg, cuts approximately $575,000 from the anticipated revenue and means Idaho will have to look elsewhere in the budget to make up the difference.
“We’re going to have to look very carefully at where we’re going to find that money,” said UI president M. Duane Nellis. “We put together a very thoughtful budget request to try to keep us whole. What we wanted to do was be supportive of our students to sustain the quality that we all take great pride in at the University of Idaho and this will make it a little bit more difficult … hopefully we won’t have to have any negative impacts on the students.”
Prior to the fee hearing, the SBOE clarified the criteria for evaluating tuition and fees at institutions across the state.
“Is it appropriate for us to be considering student and fee increases in tuition and fees based on university costs, or is it more appropriate to focus on costs to the students?” said Kenneth Edmunds, SBOE president.
The board determined the price students pay and the price paid by the university is linked, so both should be considered in making their decisions.
UI administrators were the first to make their case for tuition increases at the meeting Wednesday and underwent nearly an hour and a half of questioning from the board about the necessity of a 5.9 percent increase — including inquiries and suggestions to cut costs for the university.
Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna asked all Idaho universities to recall a previous SBOE presentation by BYU Idaho and the implementation of a program to restructure the way higher education is delivered. The BYUI program introduced a full three-semester curriculum, which Luna said has increased the productivity of staff at BYUI and serviced an increased number of students without increasing facilities. He said the structure has allowed BYUI to keep their tuition increases at 3 percent or less every year.
“It’s been so successful that books have been written,” Luna said. “I’m curious, as U of I … have you explored any of the ideas that were presented … and is there any effort at all to start moving toward that model that is not only keeping tuition low but also the increases?”
Nellis reminded Luna and the board that BYU is a private institution and that UI’s mission includes research and outreach, which increases the student costs. Nellis said UI has worked to improve its summer program in recent years in order to increase productivity and service more students.
“The question though — if I choose to go to an institution that focuses on research it’s going to cost me more?” Luna said.
“Yes,” Nellis said.
He said more than 70 percent of undergraduates participate in research and creative activity experiences which benefit their education. He said Idaho’s research universities are also an advantage for the entire state, calling them the research arm of the state of Idaho.
“I think some students would be surprised to find out their tuition is subsidizing research that is then being used to grow business and economy in the state,” Luna said.
Nellis said the other difference between UI and BYU is BYU’s faculty are expected to take on five-course loads each semester. Nellis said UI’s research mission means the type of faculty recruited to UI are people that want to go places where they can both teach and do research in their field.
“I think they benefit directly from that because they’re participating directly in that research,” Nellis said. “It definitely has an impact but there is a cost associated with that.”
Board member Emma Atchley noted that UI is not on track with the national trend of dropping tenured and tenure track faculty and increasing the number of adjunct, part-time and non-tenured faculty.
“We’re not just a teaching mission,” said UI Provost Doug Baker. “We have a very strong research mission and we also have an outreach mission. So we need faculty to do all those things and it’s difficult with part-time and temporary structures to do cutting edge research and meaningful engagement.”
Nellis said the questions about the research portion of UI’s mission statement were unexpected.
“It surprised me because there’s significant advantages to our undergraduate and graduate students in us being a research university,” Nellis said.
With the 5 percent approved increase, UI’s undergraduate resident tuition and fees have increased nearly 95 percent since 2004.
During UI’s presentation, ASUI President Hannah Davis told the board she doesn’t mind paying a little more for her education even if it puts a strain on her bank account.
“I appreciate having the professors that I do,” Davis said. “I appreciate having small classes and even though it’s hard and it’s not easy to pay that extra money … it’s something that I’m willing to do if I’m able to continue to experience the education that I’ve had so far at this university.”
Davis said she knows the tuition increase is largely a result of a shift in state funding and told the board her fellow students are in agreement if they can continue to receive the same quality of education at UI.
“There’s a recognition that when we hire our faculty and staff they’re supporting our students. When we make improvements to our facilities that’s supporting our students. They want that cutting edge type of facility, they want the best faculty in the classroom interacting with them,” Nellis said.
The board also asked UI about the $3.3 million deficit — largely made up of revenue lost from a decrease in enrollment of full time students — and how UI plans to avoid other decline in enrollment next year.
Baker said the enrollment decline was due to two main factors. First, he said the shift from a 128-credit graduation requirement to 120 allowed many students to either graduate earlier or drop to part-time. He said the other factor happened when UI cut the Western Undergraduate Exchange program as part of
a scholarship and financial aid restructuring, which reduced the enrollment of out of state students.
Baker said there have been substantial changes to the financial aid and scholarship program that have affected enrollment but also increased revenue for the university.
SBOE members also asked how administrators plan to keep UI affordable for the 36 percent of first generation students who make up part of the university’s enrollment.
“Many of our students can pay the full ride, but some have need,” Baker said. “So we’ve done a great deal of modeling for where those need bases are and how we appropriately allocate our scholarship and waiver programs so we’re being much more targeted at those kinds of groups.”
SBOE member Bill Goesling asked if UI had made scholarships available at a 5.9 percent increase to match the 5.9 percent proposed increase to tuition and fees.
“No we’ve actually reduced the money available to increase our revenue,” Baker said. “But we’ve reallocated it. Through our modeling we discovered we were actually giving money away to students who were going to come and could easily pay anyway. That didn’t make sense. We needed to spend it where we needed to spend it on those students that need it.”
With the approved 5 percent increase, UI will cover the $3.3 million deficit and a large portion of the $3.4 million in critical expenses in next year’s budget with a reallocation of nearly $600,000 from elsewhere in the general education budget. UI will not touch the $3.3 million cost of maintenance of current operations, which will add to the $228 million that has already been deferred by the university.
Kaitlyn Krasselt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org