The ski industry doesn’t track tuition costs at American universities. It doesn’t look to tuition increases and student debt as the cause of declining skier and boarder numbers. It should.

The Idaho Board of Education this week green-lighted tuition hikes for next year for its four-year, public universities. Tuition will rise between 4.9 and 6.1 percent.

For the year 2018-19, in-state tuition at the University of Idaho was $7,864. With housing, meals, supplies and transportation, the university estimated the cost of attendance at $21,350 a year. The cost is a whopping one-third of Idaho’s median annual family income of $64,178.

No ordinary Idaho family can get a student through college without taking on debt. The burden of providing higher education to young people is falling on families, not on a society in need of well educated workers.

For example, Idaho today is spending a significantly smaller portion of its general fund to support state universities than it did in 1997, according to a Legislative Services Office report.

Federal reports show that in 2018, 69 percent of the nation’s college graduates emerged from the hallowed halls of academia with an average debt of $29,800. That doesn’t include additional debt that parents incurred.

Fully 72 percent of skiers and boarders have a college degree or more. It’s a myth that skiers and boarders come only from wealthy families, though if the downward trend in winter sports participation continues, that will surely be the case. Industry researchers say less than a quarter come from households making more than $200,000 a year.

Education debt is crushing the future of students, families and the ski industry. Skier and boarder numbers won’t rise, and winter resorts will continue to battle each other for pieces of a shrinking pie unless the burden is eased.

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