When I arrived at Boise State University to assume the presidency in 2003, I learned that Boise did not have a community college. There was one in eastern Oregon called Treasure Valley Community College, which was hardly an educational option for all Treasure Valley students.
It is no coincidence that a community college was never planned for Boise and the area. Boise State was never keen on the idea of a community college because a College of Applied Technology was integrated with the university and offered a number of vocational and technical degrees. Concern that a community college would hurt Boise State’s enrollment led him to stifle any discussion of a community college like those that existed in southern and northern Idaho.
My experience in other states just didn’t fit the logic that a community college couldn’t exist alongside a major university without hurting college enrollment. Also, as a university with the potential to become a doctoral research university, it just didn’t make sense for Boise State to serve two master’s degrees – a higher education with a strong research component and a professional and technical education.
Thus began a two-year campaign by Boise State for area ratepayers to create a community college district that is now the College of Western Idaho.
Then-Governor. Butch Otter and Skip Oppenheimer masterfully co-chaired the successful effort to put a new community college on the ballot and then have it approved by an extraordinary majority of voters.
It worked and CWI became a reality. Its first campus and building was the former Boise State Campus in Nampa, which the State Board of Education at the time considered a perfect location for CWI. Today it is the largest of Idaho’s community colleges serving over 28,000 students. And the last time I checked, Boise State didn’t suffer a drop in enrollment.
CWI offers students two-year programs in vocational-technical education and it also offers an academic program – at a lower tuition cost at a state university – which allows students to transfer to a four-year university for complete their bachelor’s degree.
Now that CWI has achieved such amazing success, it is again time for Idaho to follow in the footsteps of other states, as it did with the creation of CWI and ensure educational opportunities are available. and accessible to students of all backgrounds, not just those recent high school graduates looking for that college campus experience.
The benefits of a community college education accrue not just to students, but to entire regional economies and their workforce partners who need the latest and greatest educational opportunities for their workforce. work remains competitive in a global economy.
Staying competitive in today’s market is more difficult than ever, as knowledge now doubles every year, but is not necessarily presented and delivered to students in a way that makes it more useful to local industry.
The College of Southern Idaho and the Idaho State Board of Education have already realized this since the State Board authorized CSI to offer a new four-year degree in advanced food technology, even though Twin Falls and the Magic Valley area are also served by the State of Idaho. University and Boise State University with programming leading to degrees from both universities.
This seems a perfect example of how the expansion of our knowledge base, especially in advanced technologies, is forcing colleges to rethink traditional vocational and technical degrees and develop four-year degrees that meet emerging needs. and developing a highly skilled workforce.
It doesn’t take rocket science to imagine how community colleges in Idaho might serve their respective regions given the national direction that community college programming is taking.
Last year, Arizona became the 24th state in a nationwide trend allowing community colleges to offer four-year degrees. In addition to the obvious benefits to the regional economy, advocates say low-income and non-traditional students, such as older students, those with children, or those who are the first in their families to attend college , are more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree if they are not required to transfer to a more expensive four-year university.
Given the teacher shortage in Idaho, requiring over 800 new teachers to fill classroom positions in the fall, why not free up community colleges in Idaho with a Bachelor of Education that can be offered at a lower cost than a student would pay for four academic years and one that could be streamlined to get teachers into the classroom as quickly as possible?
It will ruffle some feathers at four-year colleges that offer this degree, but now is not the time to squabble over competence when the state faces such a shortage of teachers.
It can even reduce the cost of college degrees, as the State Council and its universities see how community colleges can save student tuition compared to college tuition and fees.
It makes sense for the Idaho Board of Education to wipe the slate clean of old rivalries between our state universities and community colleges and approve four-year degrees for community colleges in Idaho where they can demonstrate a unique area of focus, where they can do it more cost-effectively than state university or when filling a need for manpower in crisis mode, as is the case with the shortage of ‘teachers.
There’s another reason why it makes sense for our community colleges to get into the four-year degree business.
In 2010, the State Board of Education announced a goal of having 60% of Idahoans between the ages of 24 and 34 earn a two- or four-year college degree or a one-year trade certificate. In 2021, the board was so frustrated with Idaho’s inability to meet the goal that they nearly gave it up. Since it is still relevant, the 60% target needs to be pushed hard to cross the finish line in the years to come.
Given the important role cost of attendance and ease of access to the classroom play in this decision, the State Council should encourage community colleges in Idaho to submit proposals for four-year degrees. that meet the criteria of cost, student need and urgency. labor needs.
Bob Kustra served as president of Boise State University from 2003 to 2018. He has also served in the Illinois State Legislature and as Lieutenant Governor of Illinois. He writes a regular column for the Idaho Statesman and hosts Reader’s Corner on Boise State Public Radio.