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Boise State may be heading for COVID-19 financial reckoning

Boise State may be heading for COVID-19 financial reckoning

This story was originally published on IdahoEdNews.org on Oct. 8, 2020.

Boise State University’s $240 million annual budget really comes down to two big variables.

Students in classrooms.

And fans in grandstands.

If you’re not a professional number cruncher, just watch those two things.

Or take it from Mark Heil, who is actually a professional number cruncher. Since the coronavirus pandemic struck in March, forcing the state’s colleges and universities to close their campuses, Boise State’s chief financial officer has paid especially close attention to enrollment and athletics.

Idaho’s largest university faces a financial reckoning that couldn’t have been imagined a year ago. After a round of furloughs in the spring, additional furloughs, job losses and operational cuts are on the table. That’s because the sure things — robust enrollment growth and a packed football stadium — just aren’t sure things anymore.

Boise State enrollment

There’s nothing unique about Boise State’s enrollment angst. Many colleges and universities — large and small, public and private — have spent the last several months bracing for what the pandemic could do to fall enrollment. Predictions of a catastrophic loss, in the 15 to 20 percent range, became commonplace.

That doomsday scenario doesn’t appear to be unfolding anywhere in Idaho’s higher education system. And while the official numbers won’t come out until later in October, Boise State President Marlene Tromp and Heil have said a slight enrollment increase is possible.

Slightly higher would be a big win, especially when it’s weighed against the expectations. And there’s really no way to overstate the added importance of enrollment at Boise State.

For years, Boise State has grown in stride with the Treasure Valley. In October 2019, fall enrollment exceeded 26,000, marking a 19 percent increase over just five years. A sharp enrollment decrease would force the

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