Sunday, May 4, 2008

Cutting the Budget, Cutting Access

An interesting story appeared in the Times-News today, a story that either hasn't been printed or went unnoticed in Pocatello, and should for every reason be disconcerting to students and anyone interested in the accessibility of higher education in rural Idaho.

Andrea Jackson of the Times-News is reporting that Idaho State University may discontinue its long-term bus service that has transported twenty-years' worth of students from the Magic Valley to ISU's Pocatello campus.

Realizing that ISU is making budget cuts everywhere--from large administrative units to the smallest departments and on down the food chain--it seems a little scary that the cuts they are willing to make will impact the perceived number one priority of an institution of higher learning, enrollment and retention of students.

Currently, the students who take advantage of this particular commuter service (ISU also offers transportation for students commuting from Idaho Falls) are paying in the neighborhood of $800 per semester for a five-day-a-week pass. If ISU decides to continue the service the cost could double. This would easily put the education goals of students in the Magic Valley in jeopardy.

Students that commute from Twin Falls and Burley generally fall into two categories: Non-traditional students who received two years of education at the College of Southern Idaho and are now working toward bachelor's degrees at ISU while living in and raising their families in the Magic Valley or traditional students who live in the Magic Valley and would rather commute each day and live at home than pay the cost of housing in Pocatello while paying tuition. Looking at the cost of the bus service from the Magic Valley, if I were living in my hometown of Declo and wanted to attend ISU, but was content living rent-free at home (big if), it would actually be cheaper for me to do what these students are doing.

When I first started at ISU, I was paying approximately $2500 per academic year (excluding the summer) on housing alone. Tack on utilities, food, etc., the cost of living in Pocatello easily equaled the cost of going to school in Pocatello (tuition, fees, and books). The cost of tuition and books could be offset by the cost of housing even with the $800 per semester bus ticket.

For some students, surely a few of whom are utilizing the current bus service, commuting from the Magic Valley to Pocatello every day is the only plausible way for them to continue their education. Discontinuing the bus service will be yet another roadblock for rural Idahoans who cannot attain an affordable and accessible college education.

The Times article cites both the Twin Falls City Council's unwillingness to contribute funds for the bus service, despite their support for the bus system, and the decreasing number of students who are actually paying to ride the bus to Pocatello. I can't explain the numbers, but it is worth nothing that the number of enrolled students of ISU (attending any campus) listing Twin Falls County as their permanent residence has been on the rise for several years.

A discontinued bus service will ultimately result in a decrease of students enrolled from the Magic Valley, a decrease (however slight) in overall enrollment at ISU, and I suspect, a smaller number of education-seeking Idahoans who are willing to stay in-state in general.

1 comment:

Cameron said...

I wonder how much of this is in relation to CSI offering more and more bachelor degrees without leaving Twin Falls?

That could explain the falling use of the bus service.