2016 Most Affordable Colleges in Idaho

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You can get an affordable college degree in Idaho, but you’ll have to work for it. The Gem State does not have any state-specific grant programs, instead relying on federal initiatives, such as the Pell Grant. To be eligible for those funds, you must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). State financial aid is mainly merit-based, with the most common award being the Opportunity Scholarship, which goes to students staying in Idaho for college. This means that if you want a cheap education, you’ll have to seek out private scholarships and apply for institutional aid once you know which school you’ll be attending. For some schools, your college admission application doubles as a scholarship application. Elsewhere, like at Idaho State University, you’ll have to apply separately for scholarships. Remember, too, to think beyond tuition and fees. There are ways to lower housing, transportation, food, healthcare and utility costs. To learn how, keep reading.

How to Transfer College Credits in Idaho

Transferring college credits in Idaho is a relatively uncomplicated process. The Idaho State Board of Education offers a transferable general education core, as well as statewide guaranteed transfer of associate degrees. This makes it possible for Idaho college students to transfer most, if not all, lower division general education courses to a new college or university within the state.

The State Board of Education requires a statewide general education core. This foundational program offers an academic introduction in courses, including communications, English composition, social sciences, arts, math and natural science. Students who complete the core education courses at one institution in Idaho can transfer the credits to another Idaho institution and satisfy the lower division core.

Students who earn an associate degree in Idaho can take advantage of guaranteed transfer of credits. With an associate degree, students are able to enter a four-year college of university with a junior standing and be considered to have satisfied the lower division core. In most cases, students will not be required to complete any additional lower division general education core courses. Ultimately, up to 70 lower division credit hours, or one half of the total credits for a bachelor’s degree will be accepted for transfer.

Interested in exploring transfer credit eligibility with a particular college or university in Idaho? Visit the Idaho Board of Education’s resource for public college and university transfer equivalency guides. This resource explains more about specific transfer policies and equivalencies for the institution you’re interested in attending.

State Financial Aid for Idaho Students

Idaho used to be a very affordable place to get a higher education. But in recent years, it has cut scholarship programs and need-based financial aid (the average students gets only $19 of the latter) while raising tuition at four-year public colleges 32 percent from 2008 to 2014. The price tag for community colleges spiked too, going up 56 percent in the same period. The Idaho State Board of Education manages the few state scholarships available. From there, you can apply for awards, learn about credit transfer policies between colleges and explore your education options in the state.

Considering state financial aid is limited and college isn’t cheap, you’ll want to cast a wide net for scholarships. A good hunting ground is the Idaho Community Foundation, which has around 75 scholarship funds with varying criteria — some are set aside for graduates of certain high schools, others are earmarked for students headed to a particular college, and still others are only available to scholars seeking out a degree in a specific field. Speaking of specific fields, there’s a big need for doctors and veterinarians in Idaho but nowhere to study medicine, so the state has several exchange programs in which it offsets some of the costs of attending an out-of-state university. Last, if you have plenty of time before heading to college, start a 529 with IDeal, the Idaho College Savings Program. You’ll earn compound interest and get a state income tax deduction for contributing.

Does it all seem too confusing? Go to Next Steps Idaho to get advice, whether you’re in eighth grade or 12th, on what you should be doing right now to financially and academically prepare for higher education.

Idaho Student Scholarships

Governor’s Cup Scholarship

Summary: Twenty-five high school seniors staying in state for college receive $3,000 per year to attend an academic or career technical program.

Eligibility: Idaho residents who graduate with a 2.8 high school GPA and are moving straight from high school to college are eligible. You must enroll full time at one of the 10 approved colleges. Selection is based on your record of public service.

How to Apply: You’ll write a two-page essay about your goals and get two references to write letters for you. You’ll then submit the online application (when it becomes available) by February 15th.

Opportunity Scholarship

Summary: Relatively strong students who need financial help getting to college can apply for the Opportunity Scholarship.

Eligibility: Graduates of Idaho high schools with a 3.0 GPA are eligible. You must enroll full time at any of seven four-year colleges in the state or close to full time at any of four two-year colleges.

How to Apply: File the FAFSA by March 1st. Separately, submit the online Idaho State Board of Education scholarship application by the same date. You must renew each year.

Postsecondary Credit Scholarship

Summary: Some teenagers are high achievers. Anyone who graduated high school with 10 college credits or more can earn a scholarship, provided they find an academic scholarship from a business or industry representative to provide matching funds.

Eligibility: The matching scholarship must be at least partly based on high school academic performance.

How to Apply: Apply online at any time.

Treacy Foundation Scholarship

Summary: This private scholarship is open to Idaho, Montana and North Dakota residents attending college anywhere. It’s worth $2,000, and is renewable for the length of an undergraduate education.

Eligibility: College underclassmen can apply.

How to Apply: Send your school transcript, a personal essay and the application form to the Treacy Foundation by May 1st.

Idaho Student Loans & Repayment Programs

Idaho State Loan Repayment Program

Summary: Healthcare professionals can get $10,000 to $50,000 in student loans paid off by working in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) for two years.

Eligibility: Applicants can be primary care, mental health or dental providers (pretty much any discipline requiring a master’s degree or higher). The employer must be a nonprofit or government organization that accepts Medicaid and has a sliding fee schedule.

How to Apply: Apply online through the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. You’ll need to attach proof of college loans. Your employer must submit a separate application, as they’ll be responsible for providing matching funds.

Rural Physician Incentive Program

Summary: Idaho primary care doctors, family medicine physicians, internists and pediatricians can get up to $100,000 to offset academic loans if they work in an HPSA in the state.

Eligibility: Graduates of University of Washington and University of Utah’s medical schools are given priority, but any physician in an Idaho HPSA is eligible.

How to Apply: Apply between July 1st and August 30th via the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. You’ll need the community organization where you plan to work to sponsor you.

Education Assistance for Idaho Military & Veterans

Armed Forces and Public Safety Officer Scholarship

Summary: Children and spouses of veterans and peace officers killed or captured while serving don’t have to pay tuition or fees at public colleges in the state. They’ll even get $500 a year for other education expenses.

Eligibility: Idaho residents who graduated high school in the state are eligible.

How to Apply: First, get admitted on your own merits to a participating public college or university, then contact the state’s Scholarships Program Manager.

Additional Support for Idaho Students

Atwell J. Parry Work Study Program

Summary: Eleven colleges participate in the state’s work study program, hiring students with financial need for campus jobs in exchange for money toward their degree.

Eligibility: Idaho residents are eligible, but each school has its own criteria for distributing work study jobs.

How to Apply: Contact your school’s financial aid office for information about additional criteria and how to apply.

Western Regional Graduate Program

Summary: The Western Regional Graduate Program allows students to head out of state for college while still paying reduced tuition.

Eligibility: Graduate and doctoral students enrolled in specific programs at participating colleges qualify for resident tuition.

How to Apply: Apply and get admitted to a participating program as early as possible; the number of reduced-tuition spaces is set by each school.

Western Undergraduate Exchange

Summary: Got your eye on a public college outside the state? If it’s a member of the Western Undergraduate Exchange, you can go there and pay just 150 percent of the in-state tuition rate at that school, resulting in a substantial discount.

Eligibility: Schools have some leeway about who qualifies. For instance, some colleges limit the WUE rate to specific majors, and others limit the number of spots.

How to Apply: All you have to do is apply, preferably early, and get in. Check with the school that you’ll receive the reduced WUE rate.

Cheaper College Living in Idaho

College expenses go beyond tuition. If you’re struggling with paying for life’s essentials while studying, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare may have a program for you. You can divide its initiatives into three types: children and families, food and cash assistance, and healthcare. In one location, then, you can qualify for cheap preschool with the Idaho Child Care Program, secure affordable home heating via the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), receive grocery money through the Idaho Food Stamp Program, and sign up for free healthcare with Medicaid or dental care through Idaho Smiles, just to name a few examples. To find out what you’re eligible for, talk to your nearest community action agency. One of its primary functions is to screen applicants and give referrals. There are other places to look for help, too, outside of government agencies. 2-1-1 Idaho CareLine is a searchable directory that lists them all.

On-Campus Housing

Living on campus can provide substantial savings. You don’t have to worry about utility bills or internet, your furniture is already there, and your transportation costs are nil. Plug in some numbers on CalcXML to see how much you’d save. Most schools in the state have some kind of campus housing. BYU Idaho is the rare exception; although it doesn’t have the standard on-campus residence hall setup, students under 27 are still required to live in approved housing unless they live with family (or have a family). Lewis-Clark State College does have traditional on-campus accommodations, which are reasonably priced. Students there who need extra help paying for a room can apply for its Residence Hall Scholarship. Even if your school doesn’t offer a scholarship for accommodation, there are still things you can do to manage costs. At Idaho State University, for example, you can establish a payment plan for not only tuition and fees, but also housing and meals.

Off-Campus Housing

Living away from campus isn’t necessarily unaffordable. You can rent an apartment in the state — even in Boise — for several hundred dollars less than the national average. (If you want to purchase a home, however, expect to pay a bit more.) And most colleges want all students to feel like they are part of the campus community, even if they’re commuting from elsewhere. That’s why they typically help with off-campus housing. BYU Idaho goes the furthest, providing a portal of approved housing options students must choose from. Lewis-Clark State College owns some off-campus housing. You can rent one from the college or submit an off-campus listing to find a place and/or roommate. University of Idaho has less to offer, with just a hyperlinked list of property managers in the area. The College of Idaho is at the extreme end of the spectrum: It has a three-year on-campus living requirement, so there’s not much advice in the way of off-campus accommodation. If you’re going there or simply want to see what’s available in town, CampusRent.com might have what you need, but it’s worth visiting HousingIdaho.com, which has properties vetted by the Idaho Housing and Finance Association, an organization geared toward putting renters and homebuyers into affordable accommodation. You can use the same site to find a shelter.

Utilities

Living off campus means calling the utility company, paying a deposit to start electricity, gas, trash pickup and water service. Make sure you budget for it, but don’t feel like you have to set aside your life savings. Idaho has the lowest cost for natural gas in the U.S., which is good news if you’re in one of the 50+ percent of households that rely on it for heating. If you aren’t, don’t sweat it — electricity rates are also low due to the state’s hydroelectric plants. If utilities are still more than you can afford, the Idaho Public Utilities Commission has put together a list of financial assistance resources, grouped by county. This includes the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), direct financial assistance, weatherization and heating system repairs.

Medical & Dental

If you want to be a doctor or dentist, you’ll have to go elsewhere, as Idaho has no medical schools. If you get sick, though, you’ll still be able to access healthcare just by looking on campus. Sometimes the school’s own student health insurance, meant to be used at the campus clinic, is affordable and offers the right level of services. Other schools ask enrollees to go through private insurers, which is the case with Idaho State University, where office visits are free for students but labs, x-rays and other services are billed to the student’s insurance. One thing that is typically free no matter where you go is counseling, though psychiatric services like those at University of Idaho require a small fee. Outside of the college insurance and campus clinic system, you have affordable options in town. Find a free medical clinic under the Program Documents tab at the Department of Health and Welfare’s website. And remember that affordable care isn’t limited to physical health. The state uses Regional Mental Health Centers to provide free psychological screening, treatment and therapy. For oral health, there are a few dental hygiene schools, including Idaho State University, that run clinics with low prices. For instance, you can get a cavity filled for $32. If you’re not near a college with a dental hygiene program, the Idaho State Dental Association maintains a list of community clinics. Each has its own eligibility requirements, but they all cater to people with fewer financial resources.

Child Care

Child care is a wild card — in some places its quite high while in similar areas its fairly low. Take the rates at the Idaho State University Early Learning Center, Boise State University Children’s Center, Lewis-Clark State College Kinder College, and University of Idaho Children’s Center. You can find yourself paying $495 a month for an infant at LCSC or $872 for that same child at UI. Those are student rates, and to get them you’ll have to take at least 12 credits per semester. Otherwise, you’ll probably have to pay the higher rate charged to parents from the community. While these are all convenient facilities, you might find a higher-ranked or cheaper one off campus. Search for state-ranked child care centers at IdahoSTARS. Since it can cost more to put a child into day care than it does to pay college tuition, you have to find financial assistance where you can. Apply for a subsidy with the Idaho Child Care Program.

Transportation

All colleges want to make sure you can get to class easily and cheaply. That’s why most have a transportation section on the website that clearly lays out transit options for students and informs them of student passes and discounts. Naturally, bigger schools have more options. Boise State students, for instance, can hop on a university shuttle or cruise around the capital and its surrounding areas for free on a ValleyRide bus. Also, keep an eye out for commuter student transit like the Idaho State University Commuter Express and the free shuttle for Lapwai students to LCSC.

Food

Food pantries are a trend on college campuses throughout the country, and Idaho is no exception. At Benny’s Pantry at ISU, students can go to any of four locations twice a month to get free food when grocery money is in short supply. They’ll just need to swipe their ID cards. Similarly, University of Idaho’s Vandal Food Pantry has cabinets stocked with nonperishables in multiple spots around campus. Students elsewhere may have to travel off campus for food aid. Use the Idaho Foodbank’s Food Assistance Locator to find hot meals and food pantries in your area. Meanwhile, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare runs the state’s WIC program, which pays for grocery items for pregnant and nursing women with limited financial means.

SEE ALSO: Our Encyclopedic Guide to Saving Money as a College Student.

Find Support in Your Area

College in Boise on a Budget

Boise is either fairly expensive or quite cheap, depending upon who you ask and what they’re measuring. So let’s break it down. The capital, home to the eponymously named Boise State University, is a great place to rent, with most studio apartments available for less than $500 a month. It is, however, an expensive place to buy a home, with most real estate north of $200,000. Child care can be cheaper than national averages, which is true throughout the state, but even with a student discount at Boise State University Children’s Center, you could still pay up to $43 a day. Your transportation costs can effectively be zero if your school has an agreement with ValleyRide, as Boise State does. And utility bills are low, like in the rest of the state.

Where to Go for Help in Boise

As far as states go, Idaho is bigger than average in terms of area but on the small side with regard to population. Many of the state’s residents live in the Boise metro area, making it the perfect hub for government social services and nonprofit offices. Below are a few places to start your search for assistance in Boise.

  • Ada County Indigent Services is a government office meant to be used as a last resort. County residents hit with catastrophic health bills can apply for assistance, while those who cannot scrape money together for next month’s rent or utility bills can get a one-time loan from the county.
  • El-Ada Community Action Partnership, on one level, gives people with limited finances referrals to services that can help them, but it also has its own programs, including a food pantry, emergency water utility assistance that can be used once a year in a shut-off situation, telephone assistance to reduce rates, and the Housing Education and Leasing Partnership, which educates new renters and helps them communicate with landlords to reduce conflicts.
  • Idaho Legal Aid Services has offices throughout the state, including Boise. It can help tenants fight eviction or negotiate utility bill payments. It also works with low-income residents to secure or retain public benefits such as SNAP or LIHEAP.

With several of the above organizations providing referrals, you should be able to find what you need if you’re willing to explain your situation. If you can’t, navigate to the Idaho CareLine to get a free referral to nearby social services.

College in Nampa on a Budget

Just half an hour west of Boise, Nampa has a cost of living similar to — or even cheaper than — its better-known neighbor. This is great news for Northwest Nazarene University and CWI students, not to mention University of Idaho students in Caldwell, just 12 miles up the road. In Boise, studio apartments are less than $500 a month, but in Nampa you might even find a good one at $400. And if you want to buy a home, no problem: Housing prices sit at around the $100,000 mark. Meanwhile, you can still take advantage of the cheap fares on the ValleyRide bus system. College of Western Idaho students can even hop on for free.

Where to Go for Help in Nampa

Most of the organizations in Boise have a service area that includes Nampa, so look to the capital as well. Don’t expect everything to align, however. The two towns are in different counties, so there are some distinct organizations working in Nampa. Here are a few:

  • College of Western Idaho hosts free basic skills education classes for people looking to pass their GED, get a better command of math, improve their reading comprehension, or become fluent in English.
  • Nampa Housing Authority rents 142 apartments and homes throughout the city to low-income residents. Full-time students receive priority, but there’s still a waiting list, so don’t wait to start the application process.
  • Western Idaho Community Action Partnership is like a filter for people seeking help. Come in, explain what you need, and it might be able to enroll your child in one of its Head Start centers, check you in at a motel during a personal emergency, send you a three-day supply of food when you’re out of grocery money, or sign you up for utility bill subsidies with LIHEAP.

If you’ve come up empty after exploring social services in Nampa and Boise, type in what you need to the Idaho CareLine, which maintains a directory of local social service organizations. You can also head to Treasure Valley Community Resource Center, which is like an information desk for social services. They’ll ask about your situation, and then connect you with a specific person at an organization that can help you. TVCRC works closely with the Region III Housing Coalition, so putting people in emergency shelters or renters in affordable homes is a particular specialty.

College in Idaho Falls on a Budget

Idaho Falls sits just over 30 minutes southwest of BYU-Idaho. Satellite campuses for both University of Idaho and Idaho State University are also there, serving students from the eastern part of the state. If you’re a student at any of these schools or another institution in the area, you likely already know it’s an inexpensive place to live. For one thing, you can rent an apartment for two-thirds what it would cost you elsewhere in the country. Utilities, healthcare and gas are all affordable. The one thing that will set you back is getting out of Idaho Falls. The nearest international airport is in Salt Lake City, three hours away. So unless you’re from the vicinity, budget a bit extra for bus fare during the holidays.

Where to Go for Help in Idaho Falls

Some Boise area organizations have field offices in Idaho Falls, the largest Idaho town outside the southwestern corner of the state. It’s big enough to warrant its own social services, though, as shown below:

  • Bonneville County Social Services can loan you money for large medical bills and financial emergencies that threaten to leave you without essentials, such as housing.
  • Eastern Idaho Community Action Partnership can probably help, no matter the problem. Its Haven Shelter puts single women and families into transitional homes, and it rents out affordable apartments to people who need subsidized housing. It provides free GED tutoring for adults and runs a Head Start program for preschoolers. And like all community action agencies, it can connect income-qualifying residents to energy assistance, offset their medical costs, or lower their mobile phone bills.
  • Idaho Falls Public Library has a College Prep Center with practice tests for the SAT and application essay tutorials. Well, it’s not literally in the library — it’s online, and you can get there just by getting a library card and logging on.

If you don’t see what you’re looking for on this list, try the Idaho CareLine, which provides free referrals to social services.

School Rankings

1

Brigham Young University-Idaho

Founded in 1888, Brigham Young University in Rexburg, Idaho is owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The university offers financial aid from federal, state, local, institutional or private sources to 64% of undergraduates, and 51% of all full-time beginning undergraduates receive institutional grants or aid. BYU-Idaho offers general scholarships, which are awarded to students based on financial need, academic achievement and extracurricular involvement. The university also offers academic scholarships for incoming freshman, academic scholarships for continuing students and talent awards. The maximum scholarship award offered by the university is full tuition.

Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

CAG Score 96.3

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

36,624 Students

2

The College of Idaho

The College of Idaho was founded in 1891, making it the oldest private liberal arts college in Idaho. The College offers institutional grants or scholarships to 100% of full-time beginning undergraduates, with students receiving $14,177 of institutional gift aid on average. Institutional scholarships include endowed scholarships, talent-based scholarships and merit scholarships. Merit scholarships for first-year students provide awards ranging from $6,000 to $15,000 per year based on ACT score and GPA. Merit scholarships for transfer students range from $5,000 to $9,000 per year based on ACT score and GPA. The College also offers Federal Pell Grants to 40% of full-time beginning undergraduates and state/local government grants or scholarships to 75% of these students.

Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

CAG Score 96.0

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

1,144 Students

3

University of Idaho

Founded in 1889 as the flagship university of the State of Idaho, the University of Idaho currently has over 12,000 students and is considered to be one of the most wired universities in the country. There are merit-based scholarships available to non-resident and resident transfer students, admitted Idaho residents (Go Idaho Scholars Program) and non-resident freshmen (Discover Idaho Scholars Program). Native American students are considered for need-based awards such as the Drissen Scholarship and the Tribal Excellence Scholarship. The Idaho Education Access Scholarship is especially earmarked for Native Americans who are the first in their family to attend college. The Charles Decker Scholarship is for students with disadvantaged backgrounds, while the Diversity Scholars program is for students with multi-cultural backgrounds.

Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

CAG Score 95.7

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

11,702 Students

4

Lewis-Clark State College

Lewis-Clark State College is a four-year public school offering more than 90 degree and certificate programs. The college has the lowest tuition among four-year public schools in Idaho, and about three-quarters of its students receive some financial aid. Lewis-Clark participates in federal grant programs including Pell Grants. It also offers a variety of work-study options, including federal and Idaho work-study programs, which are need-based, and the JOB work-study program, which does not require a student to demonstrate need. Merit scholarships include the Presidential and Provost Scholarships, awarded to high school students with qualifying GPAs and SAT scores, which provide increasingly larger awards over a student's four years in school. There are also awards for transfer and out-of-state students.

Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

CAG Score 94.4

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

4,304 Students

5

Boise State University

Founded as a junior college in 1932, Boise State University in Boise, Idaho began offering bachelor's and master's degrees in 1965, and today offers over 200 different degrees. Institutional grant and scholarship aid is offered to 35% of full-time beginning undergraduate students. Special scholarships at the school include an alumni legacy scholarship for relatives of alumni, an Honors College scholarship for academically outstanding students, scholarships for National Merit Finalists and the Capital Scholars Scholarship for Idaho high school juniors who rank in the top 10% of their class. The school also offers three merit-based scholarships for Idaho residents and two merit-based scholarships for nonresidents.

Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

CAG Score 93.6

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

22,227 Students

6

Idaho State University

Idaho State University is a doctoral research and teaching institution that offers 250 academic programs at the certificate, associate, bachelor's, master's and doctoral level. ISU offers financial aid to its students in the form of institutional scholarships, government grants, federal loans and work study. Incoming freshmen, transfer and international students are automatically considered for scholarships upon admission. Departmental scholarships are also available. Additionally, the University offers Non-Resident Tuition Waivers to out-of-state students with outstanding academic records, as well as some students with financial need. Out of State Scholar Non-Resident Tuition Waivers are also given to out-of-state students with outstanding academic performances and waive the total amount of non-resident tuition.

Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

CAG Score 93.4

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

13,429 Students

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