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What's At Stake Financially As Idaho Universities Return To Campus

Boise State University


Idaho State University held its first day of classes for the fall 2020 semester Monday. Meanwhile, Boise State University will welcome students to campus on August 24, and the University of Idaho plans to open classroom doors August 31. 

Each school will deliver many of those classes in-person, making adjustments to class size and cleaning protocols as Idaho remains among the states with the highest rates of COVID-19.

"It could be cataclysmic — and I don't use that word lightly."

But even before the pandemic shut down campuses last spring, Idaho’s four-year institutions were facing a murky financial outlook. That’s according to an analysis from our guest today, Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News.


Richert says there were three main problems facing the University of Idaho, Boise State University and Idaho State University pre-pandemic: recruitment, budget and image. On the recruitment front, he explores how higher education institions have had to shift their revenue stream from state funding to tuition and fees in recent years. He says that's put added pressure on schools to keep enrollment numbers up even during a global pandemic. 


So far this fall, Idaho universities have been able to avoid predictions of double digit enrollment. Richert reports that Boise State President Marlene Tromp told Idaho State Board officials Monday that her school has seen an overall 1% increase in enrollment from out-of-state students. The reason?


"[Students in other states] want face-to-face learning, they can’t get it at home, [so] they’re looking at other states and in this case they’re looking at Boise State as an option.” 


But, it's still early in the semester. When asked by Idaho Matters host Gemma Gaudette what will happen to university budgets if they have a COVID-19 outbreak and are forced to pivot to online learning only (something we've already seen happen in other parts of the country), Richert doesn't mince words: 


“It could be cataclysmic — and I don’t use that word lightly." 


Listen to the full interview above to learn more. 


As COVID-19 cases spread through the U.S. and Idaho, we’re committed to keeping you updated and informed. You can get updated info on cases, closures and how to stay healthy at any time on our Coronavirus news blog.


Have a question or comment for the show? Tweet @KBSX915 using #IdahoMatters


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Frankie Barnhill was the Senior Producer of Idaho Matters, Boise State Public Radio's daily show and podcast.