Tuition-Free College Would Work Great At BYU-Idaho

As some people may know, Oregon had a measure nicknamed ‘Pay It Forward.’ It was a measure that would allow the state to incur debt in order to provide tuition-free college amongst its public universities and colleges. It was voted down by the majority of the state. While this is quite understandable, BYU-Idaho would have a very good chance at making it work. After some time, the school would not have any debt from it, but instead, would make a profit from it. This is because it’s a private college that is heavily funded by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Potentially, this kind of plan could make the university completely self-sufficient.

Oregon’s Failed Plan

The plan that Oregon had would have been very helpful to students, but it wouldn’t work in the long run. This is because there aren’t really any donors of Phil Knight’s caliber. On top of this, the cost of tuition per student is way too high at the University of Oregon.

It was quite simple, really. Get an education without paying tuition and pay three percent of your income over the span of 24 years. Boom. It’s done. Again, this didn’t really work in the long run because many students who graduate from Oregon schools will end up with a job that only pays $25,000 to $35,000 per year. With tuition at nearly $10,000 per student, it’s no wonder why this wouldn’t work.

BYU-Idaho: The Affordable College

Something that BYU-Idaho, and its sister schools, have always done was offer a quality education for a fraction of the price. Of course, it is funded primarily through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This makes it possible for the university to offer church members a low tuition of $1,875 per semester, or $3,750 per year. If you’re not a member of the church, it’s only double that.

You might be asking yourself, “If college is so cheap there, why would anybody need free tuition?” The answer is a simple, but more complicated one. Part of the issue with BYU-Idaho is that many of the students have to work in order to even live in the area. This is especially true for the married college students. Students who receive a full pell grant and subsidized loan receive a total of $11,230 in financial aid. If a single student were to be frugal with their money, they could easily live on these loans while they were at school and then work a summer job to help pay for the next school year.

Rexburg, Idaho: The College Year Economy

Rexburg has a strange economy. If you were to open a small business, let’s say, a burger restaurant, you might not make it past the seven-week break (a.k.a. the summer). I have heard of some businesses that try to open up shop in the small city that did amazingly well during the school year, but died over the summer. This happens because the college students are pretty much the economy here. Only a handful of students actually stay during the summer so they can work or because they’re married and can’t get out of a contract for their apartments.

All of these things, including an apparent amnesty between locals and students, are what makes it difficult for many college students to find a job in Rexburg. Usually, jobs are already taken or they have a hard time keeping one because of how easily replaceable they are. BYU-Idaho offers on-campus jobs to its students. But most of these jobs only pay a small amount that would really only benefit someone who already had the possibility of living off their loans.

Do Students Need A Tuition-Free BYU-Idaho?

With the tuition so low, it might be hard to understand how a tuition-free BYU-Idaho would benefit a majority of the students. It might sound unneeded because the single students that receive full pell grants and subsidized loans are able to live off them, if they’re frugal. In order to fully understand the students, one must understand the costs that most college students here are faced with.

The student body here is very mixed in economic status. What I mean by this is that there are many students who don’t receive financial aid because their parents make too much (and don’t receive help). There are also many students who get all the financial aid they need to live off their loans as well as some who are married, receive financial aid, and have parents who are well off enough to pay their bills for them. Either way, there is a need for many students to receive help in some form or another.

How it Would Work

In order to mimic Oregon’s idea, the school would have to offer a contract that students would have to sign in order to waive tuition. This contract would include the students paying back three percent of their income over the span of 24 years either after they graduate or after they withdraw from the university. Either way, the school is getting some money and there is no way a student could default completely.

According to, the average range that most BYU-Idaho graduates with a bachelors degree makes annually is $32,764 to $83,053. There are roughly 16,000 on campus students throughout the year. If everything were proportioned, this makes 4,000 freshman, 4,000 sophomores, and so on. Since the graduation rate is roughly 60 percent at BYU-Idaho, I have calculated the graduating classes to be the proportioned number of 4,000 students multiplied by 60 percent. This leaves 2,400 students who graduate.

How Long it Would Take to Break Even

Over the course of 16 graduating classes, I have calculated how much the university would bring in using the incomes $32,764, $42,764, $57,764, and $82,053. These incomes are respectively the graduating classes. They alternate like this every four years in my calculation. Annually, 16,000 students worth of tuition is $60 million. The four-year tuition debt incurred for these students is $240 million. This is, of course, assuming that every student graduates with a bachelors degree in four years.

It would take the university 18 years to pay off the tuition all 16 graduating classes of 2,400. The total 4 year debt of these 38,400 students is $576 million. In those 18 years, the university would have brought in $630,342,432. If the university were to stick all of the money it received into a bank account, it would receive $21.6 billion in excess over the course of 39 years. Either way, the university would be paid back 259.61 percent of what it originally was owed by students.

Benefits to the Church

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owns and operates BYU-Idaho and its sister schools. The way that BYU-Idaho keeps tuition so low is heavily through tithing dollars (donations from church members to the church; usually 10 percent of incomes) and donations. Since a lot of tithing money goes to education, this kind of plan could help the church support the university less and focus more on building temples or expanding missions.

Benefits to BYU-Idaho

Since BYU-Idaho would have reached an accumulated $1 billion after 17 years of this plan being implemented, there is almost no limit to what the university could do. If the university wanted to expand and improve this program or that program, it would only need Church Educational System (CES) approval to do so. Money would not be an issue. The possibilities are endless.

I personally believe that the university could use an expansion to compensate for all of the students returning from missions and the influx of students with an apparent interest. I also believe that the university could even implement a graduate school, if it desired. Again, this money would accumulate to over $21 billion in excess from just 16 graduating classes. Imagine how much more would be accumulated over 34 graduating classes, or even 50 graduating classes. Again, the possibilities are endless.


A tuition-free BYU-Idaho would definitely be fought left and right. The donors of the school may even stop donating. I really don’t know. However, I believe that this could potentially be an idea donors could get behind. Donors don’t have to stop giving to the university if this plan were implemented. They could make it so that the students didn’t have to pay for the insurance during their off tracks or even help the university build some buildings. These are just small suggestions. I’m grateful that my university has so many generous donors who love us and want to see us succeed.

Another opposing force would be the city of Rexburg. Rexburg’s city council has allegedly told BYU-Idaho that even though the university owns a lot of land, they’re not allowed to expand the university by building extra buildings across the street and whatnot. This is quite ridiculous of a city to ostracize a college like this, but it happens.

Student Benefits From Tuition-Free College

While the primary goal is to make life easier for college students, some students won’t be able to make it work unless they can take out loans. As mentioned earlier, many students at BYU-Idaho are able to live off their loans, if they’re not married. But there will still be those students who cannot take out any loans. I believe that eventually, this kind of plan could help the school better help those students who don’t have federal aid as an option.

Students here are racked with tons of homework. I believe that the university going tuition-free would help these students have more time for homework. There could even be an incentive given where the university offers insurance coverage or free textbooks to students with a certain GPA.

Endless Opportunity

The opportunities offered by this kind of plan are endless. BYU-Idaho could be a model for private schools offering a tuition-free option. Expansion of the university could be made possible at a rate that is scary fast. If donors were still generous after something like this were implemented, BYU-Idaho would become the university that everybody would want to attend. Even those who aren’t members of the church! Either way, I personally don’t believe that it will ever be implemented because of donor opposition and because so many people just wouldn’t believe that it would work.


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