More than 70 percent of Bonneville County voters approved a community college taxing district May 16, despite opposition from critics who said the college would limit job opportunities for high school students and would be a redundant addition to the education network already in place.
Eastern Idaho Technical College in Idaho Falls will now become a community college with classes beginning August 21, said Rick Aman, president of EITC.
The political action committee Bonneville County Republican Party campaigned against the creation of the taxing district by arguing that there were dozens of associate degree programs available within a 50-mile radius of Idaho Falls. Aman said more were needed.
“The whole idea of a community college is to serve an underserved population,” Aman said. “The kind of students we tend to get at a community college wouldn’t qualify to go to a university or wouldn’t have the funds to or wouldn’t want to leave the area. We are talking about affordability and improved access with this community college.”
Three post-secondary institutions deliver associate degree programs near Idaho Falls including Idaho State University, Brigham Young University-Idaho and a satellite office of College of Southern Idaho. But the tuition at ISU and BYU-I are higher than at a community college and the CSI branch has limited capacity, Aman said.
“This wouldn’t have been possible if not for the pent-up demand for more college programs in Eastern Idaho,” Aman said about the ballot measure passing on its first attempt.
Eastern Idaho businesses need more than 3,800 more employees with a professional certificate or an associate degree, according to The Research and Business Development Center in Rexburg.
EITC provides about 40 terminal programs that help graduates step into the marketplace, but those programs don’t connect to larger education efforts. As a technical college, EITC can not offer dual credit opportunities to high school students and can’t easily transfer graduates to universities, Aman said.
By becoming a community college, EITC will retain the 40 technical programs it offers, but will add about 30 associate programs that are more easily transferable.
“Idaho faces a worsening shortage of people with post-secondary degrees, certificates and credentialed education and training to meet our workforce needs,” said Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, who advocated for creating the community college during his State of the State speech in January and in a statement released May 12.
“Increasing academic and career technical education opportunities in such high-demand fields as health care, information technology, advanced manufacturing and transportation are an economic imperative for Idaho,” Otter said. “Community colleges, with their combined academic and career and technical programs, are an increasingly essential part of providing the skills our workers need.”
Aman estimates the newly created college will have about 750 students in its first semester, increasing to 4,400 students by its sixth year.
No new construction is needed for the community college, but the school’s operating budget will increase from $8.6 million a year to more than $25 million as programs are added and new faculty is hired, according to the Development Center.
The school will use $5 million in startup funding appropriated by the Legislature this year, annual financial backing from the State General Fund, student tuition and a portion of Bonneville County’s property tax to pay those increased costs, Otter said.
The residential property tax in Bonneville County will increase $13.37 a year to help pay for the college.
“This campaign struck a huge and unexpected chord with the public,” said Rebecca Casper, mayor of Idaho Falls. “There were more spontaneous letters of support and volunteers than anyone expected. The issue was the right one at the right time for a lot of people, apparently.”