The financial impact of COVID-19 on Idaho’s higher education institutions may get worse as presidents expressed concern about a potential decline in enrollment for the 2020-21 school year.

An update to the Idaho State Board of Education on Monday stated research shows students may decide to stay closer to home or not enroll for classes during the fall semester because there are uncertainties about what kind of restrictions, if any, will remain in place.

“The direct expenses, revenue lost and potential enrollment declines related to this crisis have our institutions contemplating and/or implementing such measures as hiring freezes, furloughs, delayed capital and deferred maintenance projects, spending caps and program review, among many others large and small,” said Dani Dunstan, the chief of staff for Idaho State University. “From a financial perspective, this won’t be an easy storm to weather.”

As ISU prepares to see a budget shortfall of at least $17 million, University of Idaho President Scott Green said he doesn’t think UI’s numbers will get that big, although that’ll depend on enrollment numbers.

“We had finalized our budgets here at UI for the next fiscal year and had taken $22 million out already, which would have effectively balanced our budget for the coming year, if not for COVID,” Green said.

The amount of applications and acceptances to UI are up significantly, Green said, but the university’s yield rate — the percentage of accepted students who end up enrolling — is almost “non-existent” at this point, he said.

Lewis-Clark State College will likely see a smaller financial hit than the other institutions given its size, but President Cynthia Pemberton said the impact is worrisome, especially since the college has already reduced next year’s budget by $2.5 million.

“I can’t stress enough how much we really need folks to be aware of this, because it’s going to impact what we can and can’t do as a state moving forward for our citizenry,” she said. “And we’ll do our best, but there are serious financial challenges and limitations associated with this.”

All of Idaho’s higher education institutions have switched to online learning and many students stayed home after spring break concluded. Institutions may extend their academic year by one week, according to Dunstan, to offset the two-week spring break many had because of concerns over the coronavirus. The majority of institutions are also looking at moving summer sessions online.

To help presidents have more flexibility in the area of human resources management, the board unanimously approved the first reading of an amended policy that allows some leeway in dealing with unforeseen catastrophes, like the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board will consider the final approval at next week’s special board meeting.

Justyna Tomtas may be contacted at or (208) 848-2294. Follow her on Twitter @jtomtas.

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