College costs

The inflation-adjusted average cost of a year of college education in Idaho is six times higher than it was in 1980.

BOISE, Idaho - College tuition prices are up and state funding is down in Idaho, creating an affordability roadblock for many students, according to a new report.

The Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy finds students' share of higher-education funding costs has soared over the past four decades. In 1980, tuition and fees accounted for 7% of funding. Today they account for 47%.

Alejandra Cerna Rios, policy director for the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy, says those higher costs are putting a burden on Idaho students, who are struggling to graduate.

"You can imagine that between the rising cost of tuition, books, living expenses and transportation, these can be very hard to balance with the need to study and, for students who have to earn money, to work a job at the same time," says Cerna Rios.

College completion numbers in Idaho are far below the national average. Of students who enrolled in Idaho's public, four-year institutions in 2011, only 42% had graduated six years later, compared with 60% nationally.

One positive trend the report found is that more students of color are enrolling in college. Since 2010, Latino student enrollment has increased by 101%.

However, researchers also found racial disparities for access to the state's largest grant aid program, the Idaho Opportunity Scholarship.

Cerna Rios says there are enormous benefits to be reaped from students getting a degree, and that should incentivize state lawmakers to invest in higher education.

"Advanced education is one of those proven methods to make sure the economy keeps growing, to make sure that businesses have the types of workers they need, and for overall prosperity for the individual communities in the state," says Cerna Rios.

Idaho ranks 44th for state grant aid per full-time student. But the Opportunity Scholarship has proven to be a valuable resource. According to the report, retention rates for first-year students with the scholarship is 86%, compared with 72% of all first-year students.

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