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Idaho’s Universities Steadily Lose State Support Over Long Haul

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Frankie Barnhill
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Boise State Public Radio

For the past three days, the presidents of Idaho’s state colleges and universities have stood before lawmakers. They’ve all made the case for why their school should get state money. But that’s been an increasingly tough sell over the years.

This year Idaho’s colleges and universities got a $19 million boost from lawmakers. But after several years of cuts that only brought higher education spending back to 2006 levels. And even in times when schools were getting more money each year, the increases did not keep pace with growth.

Over the last two decades higher education has fallen from 14 percent of state spending to 8 percent. David Adler, with Boise State’s Andrus Center for Public Policy, says how a state spends its money reveals its priorities. Many lawmakers he says don’t see higher education as a high priority.

“At one point do the universities cease to be state universities and more and more resemble private universities with some state assistance?” Adler says. “And so that becomes a great philosophical question for legislators to ask themselves.”

Adler’s own employer is a good example of the decline in state support. Twenty years ago Boise State got nearly 80 percent of its funding from the state. Now it’s less than half. The difference has largely been made up by students. Tuition and fees have nearly quadrupled in that time.