University students from around the state gathered on the front steps of the Capitol early Monday to participate in a sit-in organized by the Idaho Student Association. The planned protest was in response to the anticipated approval of tuition and fee rate increases by the State Board of Education (SBOE) for five state universities.
“My yearly fees have gone up $710 since I was a freshman in 2006. This is a dangerous trend. No wonder so few Idaho high schoolers go on to college. It hurts my generation’s job prospects,” said Jason Denizac, BSU senior and co-founder of the Idaho Student Association.
According to Denizac, Idaho ranks 49th in the nation in the percentage of students who directly enroll in college after high school graduation and 49th for those who stay in college after their freshman year.
He decided to organize the new state-wide grassroots organization after observing students protest tuition increases and budget cuts last month.
“This happens every day in California,” he said. “For a long time there was no student involvement in Idaho. We want to show the state board students are paying attention to the decisions they are making.”
He said the sit-in of 15 students would probably not affect SBOE’s decisions this year, but it would be a beginning for student involvement during the next legislative session.
ASBSU Sen. Chase Johnson said state budget hold-backs are affecting college students the most.
“We do not have local levies like elementary and secondary education to compensate, so the burden is placed on the students themselves through tuition and fee increases,” he said. “There is a solution to this, and it lies in the audacity of our state government and our citizens. Someone needs to get out there and explain to Idaho that money given to education is an investment in our future.”
He said he is a founding member of the board of directors of the Idaho Student Association.
“That sounds a lot more substantial than it is now, but next year will be a different story,” he said. “We have board members at every public university in Idaho, and we will start holding monthly meetings. We plan on working with all the student governments to provide a unified front for Idaho college students.”
Johnson said he does not want to see a situation at Boise State like the University of California where tuition increases are in excess of 15 percent, and that student input is vital.
“The decision to raise fees was made with a considerable lack of deference to student opinion,” he said. “We need to make sure that student voice is loud and present from now on so such decisions will not be made again without dissent.”
SBOE President Paul Agidius said the board does not like to raise fees, but sometimes it is necessary.
“There are two ways students are denied access to education,” he said. “When students can’t attend, and then if they can, but courses are not available. Our job is to make sure this doesn’t happen.”
He said the decision to increase fees or the amount of increase is not decided until after university information is reviewed, testimony is heard, and the board discusses and votes.
Boise State Vice President for Finance and Administration Stacy Pearson said she is hopeful and a little nervous.
“The state budget reductions have been hard to absorb financially,” she said. “Our goal is to serve students. The key is for them to get their degree, not just to attend. A degree is the key.”
She said she is hopeful the SBOE will understand and she respects the challenges they face in making a decision.
“Hopefully we can make a case,” she said. “But even if they approve the increase, we will still have a shortfall we will have to deal with.”
For more information about the Idaho Student Association, Denizac can be reached at (208) 546-9276.