TWIN FALLS —College of Southern Idaho officials say they’ll have a lean budget next year with just a 1.1 percent increase — a smaller boost than Idaho’s other community colleges.
The state legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee voted March 6 to approve $46.1 million in community college funding — a $6.7 million increase, Idaho Education News reported. The vast majority of the increase, $5 million, will go to the new College of Eastern Idaho.
CSI President Jeff Fox described the college’s funding for next year as a “bare bones budget,” but said he’s not complaining and is optimistic.
“We’ll have to figure out how to do more will less,” he said Wednesday.
State budget decisions still must be approved by the House and Senate, and signed into law by Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter.
CSI’s board will meet Thursday morning for a fiscal year 2019 budget discussion, but no decisions will be made.
Fox said he’d like to see a little more state financial support for CSI. But in the big picture, he said, that money is going to support CSI’s sister institutions and a shared mission.
The College of Western Idaho — which has seen rapid enrollment growth — will see a 10.9 percent increase, while North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene will get a 1.5 percent boost, Idaho Education News reported.
The College of Eastern Idaho in Idaho Falls needs the additional $5 million in funding to get off the ground as a full-service community college, Fox said, calling it “absolutely essential.”
For CSI, the slight funding increase will likely go toward items such as covering rising employee health insurance costs and pay raises. This fiscal year, the college has an approximately $42.5 million general fund budget.
Jeff Harmon, vice president of administration at CSI — who oversees finances — wasn’t available to comment Wednesday.
CSI has seen an enrollment decline, which also impacts state funding. Its total headcount hovers around 7,000 students — lower than during the economic recession, a trend mirrored nationwide. But the growth trend continues for dual credit, which allows high schoolers to earn college and high school credits simultaneously.
Another piece of the puzzle: Otter recommended no funding for line items for any Idaho colleges and universities, including CSI, for next fiscal year.
“That’s fine, Fox said. “I’m sorry that happened.”
CSI spent about six months developing roughly $1 million in line item requests, including for institutional technology support, and weekend and night programs and classes to help adults who are training for the workforce. None of the line items were essential to ongoing college operations, Fox said.
In past years, CSI has received funding to pay for transition coordinators who work in high schools, dual credit advisers and the Bridge to Success summer program for first-time, degree-seeking students.
“They’ve been instrumental in us moving forward,” Fox said, toward the Idaho State Board of Education‘s goal of having 60 percent of residents ages 25 to 34 with a post-high school degree or certificate by 2020.
The college is also seeking to boost the approximately 50 percent rate of students who continue their education beyond high school. “A lot of requests are aimed at solving those problems,” Fox said.
Without any funded line items, “it slows us down and limits the progressive ideas we’d like to see,” he said, but he appreciates how Idaho has a balanced budget.