COEUR d'ALENE - A commitment to creativity and innovation, and an entrepreneurial spirit.
Those are what Duane Nellis said he was bringing to the table when he came on board as the University of Idaho's president last summer.
He's still bringing them.
Nellis' commitment to improving the university's economic vitality hasn't wavered, despite UI's loss of $21 million in state funding in the past two years.
"Even with revenues stabilizing, if the Legislature doesn't look to other sources of revenue it's going to be tough," Nellis said.
He hopes lawmakers will be open to looking at some of the exemptions and exceptions to the state's sales tax, and consider looking at possible "sin taxes" for things like cigarettes and alcohol.
"I know Governor Schwarzenegger in California has proposed a minimum proportion, or percentage, of the state's budget to go toward higher eduction," Nellis said.
In Idaho, the percentage of the state budget allocated to higher education has dropped from about 16 percent to about 11 percent, he said.
"At the same time, the commitment to corrections has gone up significantly," Nellis said. "Data shows that the more educated the population, the less criminal activity."
It's a question of deciding where our investment priorities lie, Nellis said.
He sees higher education being undervalued nationwide, and said it's affecting American competitiveness.
"It's about our future as a nation, and our state, as far as economic development and quality of life," Nellis said.
People are often unaware or don't appreciate the correlation of those things to higher education, he said.
According to an independent study completed earlier this year by Economic Modeling Specialists, Inc., University of Idaho and its alumni contribute roughly $934 million per year to Idaho's economic system.
"That's 2 percent of the state's economy," Nellis said.
In addition to looking at sales tax exemptions, he said another way for universities to increase revenue is through new business start-ups.
He points to the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative as an example. USTAR is a long-term, state-funded initiative that invests in world-class innovation teams and research facilities at the University of Utah and Utah State University, to create technologies that are commercialized through new business ventures.
"It's a great success story," Nellis said. "We need to be kind of thinking out of the box in that context as well."
Some of those types of efforts are already in the works at the University of Idaho, he said.
"Why not incubate our own? You know we spend a lot of money trying to attract new businesses into our communities," Nellis said. "Why not start these with our graduates, our own types of companies, and they would be the ones that would want to stay here in Coeur d'Alene, or in Post Falls, or Sandpoint."
Regarding an upcoming 9.5 percent increase in matriculation fees, the UI equivalent of tuition, Nellis said, "We're still a great bargain."
With that increase, the cost to attend UI will be $5,400 per year.
Nellis said UI can't call it a "tuition increase" because Idaho law doesn't allow it.
"Every other institution in the state is allowed to charge tuition but it's written into the Constitution of the state that the University of Idaho will not be allowed to charge tuition, and it limits the way in which we can use the money that we collect from student fees," Nellis said.
A constitutional amendment will be on the ballot in November, he said.
"We're hoping that passes because that gives us more flexibility to use the money we collect from students most effectively for our budget," Nellis said.
The way it stands, the university is restricted from using the $45.7 million in student fees it collects to pay for instruction.
Student fees represent slightly more than 10 percent of the university's total budget of $442.7 million.
"What I want is all funds budgeting, like everybody else, like Boise State, Idaho State," Nellis said.