I’m used to writing those immortal words “Marty Trillhaase is wrong — again.” But this time, I’m stuck having to say that the Lewiston Tribune’s editorial writer is right, at least partially so, having agreed with nearly every point I made.
To recap, Trillhaase agreed that:
l Tuition and fees have skyrocketed at Idaho’s public colleges and universities during the past 15 years — more than doubling at the University of Idaho and Boise State University, and increasing nearly 90 percent at Lewis-Clark State College and Idaho State University.
l It doesn’t matter whether the Legislature is generous or not when it comes to higher education; the State Board of Education tends to approve tuition and fee increases anyway.
l Higher education is more expensive for students because schools are building out administrative bureaucracies.
l Except for BSU, student enrollment has been decreasing for years at Idaho’s post-secondary institutions.
Where Trillhaase and I differ is on the solution to the escalating tuition crisis. Trillhaase contends that my proposal to freeze Idaho higher education tuition and fees is akin to “amputation.” I contend that imposing a freeze on college costs is more of a diet: A freeze would force Idaho’s schools to do some real soul searching about their place in the state and in society, and allocate their resources accordingly.
College campuses should be places where people receive an education that is of value to them in their future pursuits. Alas, that largely isn’t happening. Idaho’s public colleges and universities routinely leave a supermajority of attendees with a lot of debt and no degree. That’s a fact, which leaves the question: What are students getting?
Idaho’s higher education system is quantifiably obsessed with social justice and thought control. I don’t have enough room to provide all the examples gathered up this year, so I’ll provide a few:
l The UI spends public funds to teach students what not to wear on Halloween so as to not “offend” some people; offers “safe spaces” to students who are easily “triggered” and has an office that includes in its mission the combating of heterosexism (the belief that heterosexuality is normal), among other things.
l Similarly, BSU has spent public dollars to teach faculty and staff that white people are all racists, coaches transgender students where to find laser hair removal, trains professors to give minority students a break on grading and preaches that school officials should make hiring decisions as well as award graduate student slots based on race, gender and sexual orientation.
The campus shenanigans are startling to many, Yet Trillhaase asserts, without evidence, that the failings of Idaho’s higher education system have to do with decades-old attempts to limit property taxes. But because Idaho state government hasn’t collected property taxes since the imposition of a general sales tax in 1965, this is a dubious argument, to say the least. Moreover, Trillhaase’s contention that Idaho’s higher education system is being starved of money because of income tax cuts fails to hold water. What his argument fails to recognize is that income tax collections are up despite past decisions to lower taxes for working Idahoans who earn more than $11,000 a year.
If anything, Trillhaase’s own policy priorities are responsible for the diversion of additional new funds to higher education. Trillhaase was head cheerleader of Medicaid expansion, despite repeated warnings that Medicaid, on the whole, swallows increasingly large swaths of funds that would ordinarily be made available to other programs, including higher education.
Here’s the bottom line: We know that throwing more money at the problem hasn’t helped students afford college. Whether the money comes from students or taxpayers, officials on Idaho’s college campuses have demonstrated that they cannot be trusted to do right by the people who pay the bills.
The only way to help our colleges and universities to get their heads on straight is to freeze tuition and fees. That’s hardly an “amputation,” as Trillhaase puts it.
This is a diet, wherein our schools can choose metaphorical broccoli or pizza, having emphasized in the extreme the latter for many years. In doing so, the hope is to spare students and taxpayers from being forced to subsidize the foolish and get our four obese, underperforming and hopelessly misdirected public colleges and universities back on course.
Hoffman is president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation.