Idaho has made little progress toward a 60 percent postsecondary degree-holding population. According to the governor’s higher education task force, the state is in no state to reach that goal.
“The Task Force concluded that we will never achieve the 60-percent goal the way higher education in Idaho is structured today,” said Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter in his final State of the State Address last week.
In his speech, the governor outlined his proposal for the creation of an executive officer to be hired by the State Board of Education. Otter said the executive officer would coordinate the work of higher education institutions and manage consolidation of support for higher education. He said consolidation will create savings that can be reinvested into higher education.
The governor said the position will not resemble the chancellor system used by many states.
“There’s no doubt these changes will upend the status quo,” Otter said.
Two legislators from Idaho’s 5th District, in which University of Idaho resides, have concerns about the creation of a new position.
“The University of Idaho as the land grant is supervised by the board of regents. I don’t know if it’s constitutional,” said Rep. Caroline Troy, a Republican from Genesee. “If this is developing toward a chancellor system and the University of Idaho takes the lead, I would be supportive, but if it is not, I will fight it.”
Otter said the position would be hired by the state board, which oversees K-12 and higher education.
“They have an executive officer of the State Board of Education. I don’t know why they need another one,” Troy said. The 5th District’s newest legislator, Sen. Dan Foreman, a Republican from Moscow, is known for his dislike of growing government and being a lone nay vote on spending bills.
“I don’t believe creating an executive officer position is worth the cost,” Foreman said. “I’m not a big fan on creating new positions. If coordination between universities isn’t what it needs to be, the existing staff need to solve that. They have plenty of people intelligent enough and highly trained enough to do that now.”
Higher education has a lot to compete with for its place in the budget as Idaho’s Republican majority turns its attention to tax cuts.
Included in Otter’s budget proposal is $10 million for the University of Idaho’s Center of Agriculture, Food and the Environment (CAFE). It also includes $715,100 for continued expansion of a computer science program into a 4-year Bachelor of Science program at UI’s Coeur d’Alene campus and $500,000 of ongoing funding to support UI’s agricultural research and extension centers, graduate student housing, laboratory renovations and equipment.
“It would be wonderful if CAFE got funded,” Troy said. “I think that’s long overdue. It would allow Idaho to support the dairy industry.”
Foreman said he is not sure how he will vote on this spending bill.
“I think the universities in general do a lot of good things for the state but I think they come to the well too often wanting too much money,” Foreman said. “I’m not saying that’s the case here. $10 million sounds like a whole lot of money.”
Otter also proposed spending on future college students, asking for an additional $5 million to college and career counseling, which would double the current annual expenditures.
Nishant Mohan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NishantRMohan