Idaho’s leading story over the last week has been a debate over diversity programs at Idaho colleges and universities.
The trigger was a letter drafted by Idaho Falls Rep. Barbara Ehardt (a former college basketball coach) and signed by 27 Idaho House Republicans. It denounced a variety of diversity efforts at Boise State University, such as multicultural events, six graduate scholarships for underrepresented minorities, etc. The key quote: “This drive to create a diversified and inclusive culture becomes divisive and exclusionary because it separates and segregates students.”
House Democrats unveiled their own letter backing diversity programs. BSU students planned a rally in support of these programs.
Ehardt told BSU public radio last week that these kinds of programs hurt by “dividing and segregating” students.
The Republican letter targeted efforts geared for Native Americans, blacks and gays. Critics labeled that as demonization.
I was curious if BSU had any other efforts for other groups. I looked up officially approved campus clubs at BSU. These clubs receive university support, including staff guidance, copy privileges, access to space and a bank account. There are a wide variety of groups. There is a one for debate, another for fitness, chess, and many, many more.
I looked for groups based on ethnic affiliation. There are clubs for Bangladeshi, Filipinos, Chinese and Saudi students and cultural/language ones for those who speak French, German, and Spanish and one for those interested in the country of Japan.
Religious groups are well represented by the Bronco Campus Association, CRU at BSU, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Foundation College Ministry, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Jewish Student at Boise State, Latter-Day Student Association, Muslim Student Association, Orthodox Christian Fellowship, Reformed University Fellowship, Resonate Student Association, Synergy Campus Ministry and Young Life Club.
It does appear that, to be consistent, the Ehardt letter should have objected to all of the above.
Another argument made in the letter was that diversity programs burden students by increasing college costs.
In FY 2018, BSU’s total budgeted revenues were $516 million with $103 million derived from student tuition. The letter pointed at $55,000 in enumerated expenditures plus some other items with unspecified cost. That indicates that the overall cost of diversity programs at BSU is relatively minimal.
The point made that is undoubtedly valid is that tuition is rising. BSU’s undergraduate tuition is set to jump 4.9% this year and in the past three years has moved up a significant 14%.
Idaho Democrats blame these type of increases on inadequate expenditures by the Idaho Legislature. Ehardt noted that this year’s legislature boosted higher education funding by 4.8%.
The cost of higher education is a legitimate concern. Tuition is key factor in driving burdensome student loans and the rising costs of higher education don’t help. The Idaho Legislature needs to keep a laser-like focus on minimizing the burden.
One approach that could yield dividends would be to encourage more Idaho students to attend lower cost community colleges. Idaho now has one in every region: NIC in Coeur d’Alene, CWI in Treasure Valley, CSI in Twin Falls and CEI in Idaho Falls. Their tuition is a fraction of what the other institutions charge.
One measure worthy of consideration would be to direct community colleges to offer 4-year degrees. Right now, Idaho law allows the board of trustees of a community college to decide to offer such programs. But, the real barrier is the cost which is born substantially by local taxpayers. The Legislature should fund programs beyond an associate degree at community colleges at the state level. That option would yield major savings for Idaho students.