News Ticker

Dollars should follow students: Funding inequality at public universities

Bryan Talbot / The Arbiter

Dollars should follow students. Stacy Pearson, vice president of Finance and Administration has said as much and so has Ryan Gregg, Associated Students of Boise State University (ASBSU) president.

The idea of state dollars following students—regardless of which four-year public institution they attend, seems sound; however, in the past few years Boise State lost out on $10.3 million dollars in Enrollment Workload Adjustment (EWA) funds.

The EWA is money given to the State Board of Education (SBOE) by the state legislature. The money is intended to ease financial growing pains experienced by state universities from growing enrollment, although certain degrees and programs are taken into consideration before the funding is distributed.

There are four state universities in Idaho: Boise State, Lewis and Clark State College, Idaho State University and University of Idaho. The four schools are each considered for a part of the financial pie which is distributed by the SBOE, but each school does not receive an equal amount.

The EWA is calculated by using a 3-year rolling average of growth in credit hours weighted by course level and discipline to account for big changes in enrollment in a single year.


Why should it matter if the dollars follow the students?


For the most part, the EWA was funded for a while. However, the problem was when the legislature first started funding the EWA, the institutions weren’t on an even playing field.

“When you start adding this enrollment workload adjustment; you’re doing so on an unequal base,” Pearson said.

The formula for the EWA was conceived in the 90s but after only a few years the institutions started voicing issues they saw with the funding distribution.

Boise State and Idaho State University claimed they needed additional funding to correct inaccuracies caused by the funding starting on a uneven field.

Based on the claims being made by the universities that the funding was creating an inequitable environment, the State Board decided a study should be done to verify or reject the claims
being made.

“What happened in a nut shell: the study identified an inequity which said Boise State should get more money,” Pearson said.


How does the funding inequality affect students?


The yellow triangle indicating a student has been waitlisted for a class, or worse yet, the blue box indicating a class has been closed to enrollment, affects many students across a range

of academic disciplines. The problems caused by the waitlist or closed courses is indicative of a far greater problem: non-equitable funding for the enrollment workload adjustment.

“What that funding pays for is faculty so you don’t run into bottleneck courses,” Pearson said.

Pearson explained the money received by the state is used to pay faculty salaries instead of going toward things like new buildings.

Every dollar of EWA funding Boise State doesn’t receive can be equated into literal jobs and classes.

If Boise State had ample faculty to fill teaching needs, students wouldn’t experience bottlenecks to the degree they do now.

“The way this manifests itself is we can’t hire tenured track faculty, so we have a lot of faculty for the lower division, undergraduate stuff,” Gregg said. “But we need the 300- and 400-level. There’s a bottleneck … and what that looks like for students is the waitlist.”

Boise State alumna Courtney Hays said she always had problems getting into classes she needed.

Her biggest problem was organic chemistry. Although there was room to enroll in the lecture, when she tried to sign up for the corresponding lab no sections were available.

“My advisor told me lab classes can only be a certain size for safety purposes,” Hays said. “It was always strange to me they would offer so many lecture classes if they didn’t have enough lab classes for students.”

Without EWA funds to pay for faculty, in conjunction with the university growing, wait lists have grown longer and as a result tuition has increased.

Pearson explains faculty can’t be paid using one time money or reserve funds.

“So when we’ve talked to students before we say, ‘look, we have a choice here, the state’s not going to give us money so if we don’t increase tuition we’re not going to be able to hire faculty and you’re probably going to notice some bottle necks and going to have trouble proceeding through your academic program,’” Pearson said.

But even a raise in tuition can’t make up for a $10.3 million dollar loss.

Pearson speculated tuition would have to be raised upwards of 12 percent to make up the deficit—a dramatic increase considering Boise State students generally see an average tuition increase of five percent.

“We’re kind of hitting that point as a nation where it’s too hard for students to handle these very large tuition bills, where they’re not going to finish, where they’re going to default on their loans. That’s not going to help the economy at all,” Pearson said.


What is being done about it?


In April 2007, the legislature appropriated $2,190,300 to Boise State for equity funding in the fiscal year 2008 budget. This amount represents a settlement of $0.50 on the dollar for funds due to Boise State.

By accepting the settlement, Boise State agreed any remaining funds owed were null and void.

However, the settlement didn’t address potential future inequity scenarios.

“The problem is we kept growing and the state cut their budget so when they quit funding the EWA formula for four years, things got really out of whack,” Pearson said. “We actually ended up worse than we were.”

The problem is the EWA wasn’t funded in 2008 and 2010-2012. In addition to not funding the EWA, there was also a 23 percent reduction in state funding over the past three years.

“So regardless of them not funding EWA, they actually just took it out of our base budget. So it was a double whammy of you don’t get the EWA and we are going to cut your base funding,” explained

In fiscal year 2013 the state budget was beginning to recover, but didn’t have anywhere near the kind of money Boise State, and the other three state institutions, were asking for—an amount totaling $17

“They said, ‘we don’t have that kind of money, but we’ll tell you what, we’ll at least fund the EWA,’” Pearson said. “So for fiscal year ‘13 we got our $3.5 million.”

In March of 2011, the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee directed the Office of Performance Evaluation to conduct a study of the funding equity issue.

The result of the report was the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee (JFAC) asking the State Board of Education to define what equity is.

“We all started working together to develop this settlement,” Pearson said. “The idea was we were going to settle funding equity and then move on to this new budgeting model which starts rewarding institutions for graduation rates, more of an outcomes-based (model).”

According to Pearson, it took five or six months to reach a settlement negotiation between institutions.

“Nobody made a promise, nobody wrote it in writing, but our government affairs people talked to the legislative leadership and said, ‘What is a fair number to resolve this?’ The number $5 and $10 million got floated around,” Pearson said.

Pearson herself played a crucial role in the settlement by playing the position for Boise State. She figured if Boise State was owed $10.3 million, she wanted to negotiate for at least half that.

Ultimately Boise State ended up with $4,960,811, right around Pearson’s mark.

“ISU: they get less than they were owed originally. Boise State gets less in this negotiation. U of I gets double what they are owed,” Pearson said with a laugh. “It does seem unfair. I joked with people, ‘I’m not a very good negotiator, here U of I doubled theirs,’ but at the same time, here was my goal; if I’m told we have ten million because of our share of this, I want at least half of that for Boise State.”

Boise State President Bob Kustra agreed with Pearson saying ultimately Boise State wanted the option that would bring the most money to the school.

“This also happened to be the option that gave the U (of) I additional funding,” Kustra said in an email. “That funding would enable the university to hire more faculty and support instructional costs so that students can get their courses and proceed to graduate in a timely manner.”

The entire settlement, however, is hinged on one key aspect: the legislature. Boise State, along with the other institutions, could hope and dream for money all they want, but without the funding earmarked by the legislature, that’s all the settlement is: hopes and dreams.

In January, hope hit a snag when Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter put in his budget request. Instead of including money to fund the settlement he opted to fund performance-based funding. In addition, he did also recommend funding the current year, fiscal year 2014 EWA.

Kustra is aware the SBOE, the legislature and the govenor want to move forward with performance-based funding rewarding outcomes, but said the equity funding has to be allocated first.

“The inequality will continue and the institutions that currently receive the greatest inequality in funding, like Boise State, may see that inequity continue to grow without some initial adjustment to a more equitable and defensible base funding structure,” Kustra said in an email.

Performance based funding isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but as Kustra explained, the settlement is preferred in order to start performance-based funding on a more equitable base.

At this point the governor’s budget request still needs approval from the legislature, but while the legislature is aware of the problem, it’s difficult to say how it will rate funding priorities.


About Amy Merrill (0 Articles)
Amy is a senior at Boise State and the current news editor for The Arbiter. She crammed everything she possibly could into a single degree; a dual major in communication and English, a journalism emphasis and a political science minor. She is eager to earn what she calls, "that expensive piece of paper" on May 18, but in the meantime is focused on bringing campus as much news as humanly possible.