So you’ve got a terrible pain in your toe.
Dr. Wayne Hoffman has looked it over.
Here’s your problem:
You have an ingrown toenail.
And here’s Dr. Hoffman’s suggested remedy:
Case in point: The Idaho Freedom Foundation president’s diagnosis of what ails the state’s colleges and universities.
He says the price of attending Idaho’s institutions of higher learning has gone up too much.
“The resulting (State Board of Education-approved) unfettered tuition increases have eclipsed the rate of inflation by a country mile,” Hoffman wrote last week. “In the last 15 years, tuition and fees at the University of Idaho and Boise State University have more than doubled. Idaho State University and Lewis-Clark State College’s tuition and fees have gone up roughly 90 percent over the same period.”
He’s not wrong.
Nor can you dispute Hoffman’s assertion that the State Board has consented to the requests of school administrators to raise fees, regardless of whether the Legislature handed out good budgets or bad.
Hoffman’s also accurate when he points out that getting a college degree — at Idaho and everywhere else, public and private — is more expensive because layers of administrative bloat have been added through the years.
No wonder, as Hoffman asserts — again, correctly — that enrollments are falling. Given the choice between making money in a booming economy or borrowing around $30,000 to earn a college degree, what would you take?
Of course, he’s shading some of the background.
For instance, most of the budget years have been bad.
Ever since passage of the 1 Percent Initiative in 1978, state support for higher education has been on a steady downward path. In the past 20 years alone, legislators have sliced the share of Idaho’s general fund devoted to its college and universities from 12.4 percent to 8.1 percent.
His claim that state lawmakers boosted spending to higher education by 40 percent since the Great Recession is misleading. It only works if you compare the current $306 million appropriation to the $209.8 million budget approved for the 2011-12 school year. Look at where spending on Idaho stood on the eve of the Great Recession in 2008 — $285.2 million. In other words, the state has increased its commitment to its four-year institutions by $20.8 million — or 7.3 percent — in a decade. And that’s not accounting for inflation.
You can argue whether the State Board raised fees too much by a percentage point here or there. But there’s no question that by withdrawing its investment from higher education, the Legislature forced schools to compensate for lost state dollars with more tuition.
Which leads us to Dr. Hoffman’s remedy.
He would end the state board’s authority over setting tuition and hand it back to the Legislature.
Then he would have lawmakers impose a freeze.
Of course, you can see where this is going.
It means cuts.
However satisfying it might be to see lawmakers finally held politically accountable for this mistreatment of higher education, they’re not about to become more generous.
Faced with a tight budget year brought on by the GOP-led Legislature’s decision in 2018 to cut income taxes for the rich and corporations more than the state could afford, Gov. Brad Little is scaling back. Spending on everything except K-12 will be shaved 1 percent this year and 2 percent next. Even before those cuts were announced, UI President Scott Green began downsizing his school to deal with an operating deficit.
Hoffman and the IFF have considerable influence over the GOP majority in the Legislature. But if Hoffman gets his way, you can watch the programs disappear at UI, BSU, ISU and LCSC.
Who does that serve?
Not the students. Many of them will wind up pursuing studies elsewhere, paying even more in nonresident tuition. Once graduated, they’re not likely to return. There goes a pool of home-grown talent for Hewlett-Packard, Micron Technology, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories or the Idaho National Laboratory.
But it does serve the political ideology of the people backing Hoffman’s Freedom Foundation.
These financial contributors, whoever they are — Hoffman refuses to disclose them — apparently agreed with Hoffman when he wrote: “I don’t think government should be in the education business. It is the most virulent form of socialism (and indoctrination thereto) in America today.”
These same contributors also supported Hoffman’s summer-long campaign against diversity programs — largely funded through grants and private sources, it turned out — at Boise State University.
In other words, Dr. Hoffman doesn’t mind amputating your sore toe.
But he has something else in mind — he wants to sell you a prosthesis. — M.T.