Higher education failing in Idaho

Two observations about higher education in Idaho: One, we can’t continue to raise tuition. Two, we can’t continue to cut higher education to the bone.

This leads me to a third observation: We can’t continue with the 1970s mentality for funding higher education. State Supt. Tom Luna is getting a lot of attention for his reform proposals for public schools. We need similar changes in the way we fund higher education.

For starters, Boise State University needs to be Idaho’s flagship university. Old-time Vandal and Bronco fans will hate this idea, no doubt. The Idaho Statesman and Lewiston Morning Tribune hated the idea when Dan Loughrey talked about it during his unsuccessful campaign for the Legislature last year.

Well, giving Boise State “flagship” status is one idea I have thought about for a long time (in the interest of disclosure, I am a University of Idaho alum). More importantly, we need to have a serious conversation in this state about where Idaho is going with its higher education system. What ought to be crystal clear is that Idaho does not have the financial means to fully fund three universities, a college and three community colleges.

Should we shut a bunch of schools down? No. Do I as a blogger for Ridenbaugh Press have all the answers? Of course not. We just need some leadership and direction regarding where Idaho wants to go with its higher education system – something I have not seen in my lifetime. On the top level, we have three major universities, three high-paid presidents, three administrations and three different visions for higher education.

State dollars can be stretched only so far. Until dramatic changes are made, Idaho will continue to be locked in a system that promotes mediocrity over excellence. As for me, I’d rather see Idaho have one good university, rather than three substandard ones.

The best of the bunch academically – and my bias is showing here – is the University of Idaho, which has a long tradition of academic success. But with budget cuts that have come over the last few years, the UI is far from being the quality university it should be.

I mention Boise State as a logical flagship university, because of the location. BSU is in the center of the state’s population, commerce and cultural growth. Moscow has the Corner Club.

Flagship universities, and statewide university systems, are not revolutionary ideas. California, Indiana and Arkansas have statewide systems. The University of Nebraska, University of Wisconsin and University of Minnesota are undisputed kingpins in their respective states.

I’m not sure about who is going to start this discussion, or when it will happen. If you’ve read this far, you might be thinking, “This guy is crazy … we can’t do that.”

I am guilty as charged – the “crazy” part, that is. But we can’t afford to do nothing, and we can’t afford to maintain the status quo.

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