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Ed Board to mull fee hikes for Idaho universities

by Jessie L. Bonner
| April 5, 2010 9:00 PM

BOISE - The University of Idaho could charge nearly $600 more a year in fees when classes start this fall, but student body president Kelby Wilson hasn't heard so much as a peep from his constituents.

Nationwide, students have staged rallies to protest education funding cuts and tuition hikes, some even got out of control as punches - and ice chunks - were thrown in Wisconsin and a major California freeway was shut down.

But in Idaho, where the average in-state student pays $4,921 a year in tuition, Wilson said his university's proposed 12 percent fee increase hasn't become fodder for heated demonstrations.

Not when a much more expensive school sits next door.

"I wonder if it helps us to have Washington State just eight miles away and students know that if they were across the border they'd be paying double," Wilson said. "I haven't had a single student come talk to me about this fee request."

The state Board of Education is expected to decide today whether to allow Idaho's public universities to increase tuition and fees between 8.7 percent and 12 percent.

The board has rejected double-digit tuition and fee increases at Boise State University, Idaho State University, the University of Idaho and Lewis-Clark State College for the past four years.

But steep declines in state funding for higher education could warrant the move.

Idaho plans to spend roughly $217 million in tax revenue on the schools during the next fiscal year, knocking state general funding below levels established seven years ago.

The total $377.7 million budget for Idaho's four-year public universities will fall 7.8 percent starting July 1 and includes state general funds, tuition and fees, one-time federal stimulus cash and endowment money.

It's a dilemma the board likely saw coming in December, when trustees agreed to temporarily waive a policy prohibiting requests for tuition increases of more than 10 percent for full-time students.

The University of Idaho was alone in taking advantage of the temporary rule change.

The current full-time, in-state student cost per year at the University of Idaho is about $4,932. It's $4,864 per year at Boise State and $4,968 at Idaho State.

If the education board approves the increases, costs to those students will rise between $490 and $592 per year.

"There's some (board members) that think we ought to just hold the line where it's at," board spokesman Mark Browning said. "And there's others who want to grant close to what the institutions have requested."

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