Over the past several years, the Idaho Legislature’s higher education funding methods have left Idaho’s public colleges unequally funded, creating a need for a new allocation model.
Through the current funding model, called enrollment workload adjustment, Boise State has not been receiving equitable funding. For the 2016-2017 school year, Boise State was allocated $5,824 per full-time student as compared to University of Idaho’s $9,257. It would take nearly $53 million to make Boise State equal to University of Idaho’s per-student funding. Proponents of a new model hope to increase funding for all Idaho institutions.
The new model, referred to as outcome-based funding, would allocate money based on degrees awarded rather than enrollment numbers and other factors, but its implementation depends on legislative support.
“Allegedly (outcome-based funding) will help with an inequity, but there’s still the political process,” said Stacy Pearson, Boise State vice president of finance and administration. “The Board has to approve it and the legislature has to fund it.”
Josh Scholer, student lobbyist for Associated Students of Boise State University, emphasized that he wants all schools to receive more funding, rather than working against other colleges.
“It cannot turn into us-versus-them because they’re already struggling,” Scholer said. “We need to find a way to increase funding that doesn’t take it away from the other schools because higher education is valuable across the board.”
Chief Financial Officer for the Idaho State Board of Education Chet Herbst said K-12 education received the main focus from the legislature following the 2009 recession, so colleges took a larger financial hit.
“(Funding issues are) something that’s happened around the country,” Herbst said. “A lot of the cost of education has been passed off to students and their families in the forms of higher tuition.”
Funding Allocation Methods
The current Idaho State Board of Education funding policy, which is the method for allocating funds to Idaho colleges, is called Enrollment Workload Adjustment.
This process allocates funding based on how many students are enrolled at Idaho universities; Boise State, University of Idaho, Idaho State University and Lewis and Clark State College. As Boise State’s enrollment has increased over the past decade, they have still been funded less than other colleges. Though meant to be more fair, the enrollment workload adjustment model has not led to Boise State receiving equal funding per student when compared to the base budget increases awarded to other Idaho colleges. The new model, outcome-based funding, seeks to fill the funding gap.
“We can’t tell precisely the amount that would go to each institution, but those that have greater output would get greater dollars,” Herbst said. “ It’s an equitable way to distribute the dollars, in a sense, in that dollars are being provided for what (colleges are) actually achieving rather than on some historical pattern.”
The State Board has said for the fiscal year 2018 budget request, their number one priority will be getting the funding to switch to the new system, according to Pearson.
The board will provide $1 million from existing resources and request an additional $10 million from the legislature. Of that amount, Boise State would receive 40 percent, or about $4 million, according to Pearson.
Pearson said the new model would benefit all universities, because it will focus on how many degrees are awarded per school, rather than solely enrollment statistics.
“(Outcomes based funding) is a situation where all of the institutions would get new money. All of the student bodies could coalesce around this goal,” Pearson said. “It’s a good thing, whereas the old model was contentious, because it was always one school gets money and another doesn’t.”
While the legislature is in charge of balancing the budget, it is the institutions and Idaho State Board of Education’s responsibility to let legislators know what is needed, according to Herbst.
“There are a lot of complexities involved. I’m not trying to make an excuse for previous legislatures, or what they did, but we acknowledge we’ve got an issue here and we’re trying to chip away at it,” Herbst said.
While the new model is in process, Pearson said things can’t stay the same.
“The time is now, because if it isn’t politically supported, then I guess we go back to the enrollment workload adjustment which hasn’t been funded,” Pearson said.
Funding for higher education is tied to broader educational goals set by the State Board of Education, which has set a statewide goal for 60 percent of Idahoans between the ages of 25 to 34 to have received a college degree or certificate by 2020.
“Everybody that I’ve talked to, all the observers, say it’s a pretty steep slope to try to hit that goal by 2020, but it’s a good target,” Herbst said.
Though the goal will be hard to attain, Herbst said it should be set higher.
“Everyone is pressing ahead to try to hit, and then eventually exceed, the 60 percent. We’ll just have to see how long it takes to get there,” Herbst said.
Pearson agreed the goal might not be reached by 2020.
“Right now, collectively, (Idaho’s higher education graduate rate is) actually going down. We’re not meeting the goal,” Pearson said.
Part of the issue in reaching the goal involves the inconsistent population in Idaho. The graduate total is based on a fluid population and a narrowly defined age group.
“(The graduate total) is a census driven figure,” Herbst said. “That has an impact on when (Idaho reaches the goal of 60 percent) and how you get there.”
In 2014, 37.70 percent of the state’s working-age population (25-64) held a quality postsecondary credential, based on U.S. Census data. Though this age range is broader than the state goal, it still illustrates the progress left to be made in Idaho.
“We’re hoping to meet the goal we set for (Boise State) though, and thus we think we should be rewarded for that,” Pearson said.
After years of seeing higher education be neglected in the legislature, Scholer drafted a resolution to encourage the legislature to take up the funding issue. The resolution was passed in both the ASBSU Student Assembly, as well as the ASBSU Executive Team as of Monday, Sept. 19.
The resolution lays out a case for increased investment in higher education, noting that, in the 2013-2014 academic year, “for every dollar invested in higher education, the average Idahoan taxpayer received $5 in return and $4.1 billion in total was contributed to the economy supporting nearly 83,000 jobs.”
Scholer said the resolution will be shared with media outlets, and many others involved who are able to make a difference.
“Basically, I wanted ASBSU to have, for the first time ever, some sort of stance. Let’s show some backbone,” Scholer said. “Let’s let the folks know down the street at the Capitol that they can’t just come in every year, blow some smoke in our face and then go home. That’s not going to happen this year.”