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College of Southern Idaho seeks to offer bachelor’s degrees

College of Southern Idaho could become one of only about 90 U.S. community colleges to confer bachelor’s degrees. Photo by Teya Vitu.

College of Southern Idaho seeks to join the roughly 6 percent of two-year community colleges in 19 states that confer bachelor’s degrees in limited subjects.

CSI in early April submitted its proposal to offer four-year degrees in elementary education and advanced food manufacturing to the Council on Academic Affairs and Programs, a working group within the Idaho State Board of Education.

This is the first step toward ultimately asking for approval from the Idaho State Board of Education, possibly in August, said Todd Schwarz, CSI’s executive vice president and chief academic officer. The CSI bachelor program would be paid for with tuition and student fees of about $6,100 annually.

Schwarz would like to start offering the two bachelor’s degrees programs in fall 2019.

Only an estimated 90 of the nation’s 1,462 community colleges confer bachelor’s degrees and 64 of those are in just three states: Florida, Washington and California. The other 16 states that have community colleges conferring bachelor’s degrees have only one, two or three colleges doing so, according to the Community College Baccalaureate Association.

A handful of community colleges won state approval to confer bachelor’s degrees in the 1990s. This included the community college south of Twin Falls, Great Basin College in Elko, Nevada, which serves Nevada’s 10 largest counties spanning an area the size of Idaho.

Great Basin College introduced a Bachelors of Arts in Elementary Education in 1999. Great Basin at that time predicted it would have four to six bachelor’s  programs by 2010 but had eight bachelor’s programs in 2010 and today has 12.

Great Basin awarded 72 bachelor’s degrees in 2017, college spokeswoman Kayla McCarson said.

“’Growing our own’ has become a strategy to provide a trained workforce for rural Nevada in jobs for which it is otherwise difficult to recruit and retain quality professionals,” McCarson said about the Elko college, which sits between 230 and 274 miles from the nearest four-year university in Salt Lake City, Boise and Pocatello and 289 miles from Reno.

CSI in Twin Falls believes it can train more teachers faster to address the teacher shortage in the Magic Valley than the existing Idaho State University bachelor’s program offered on the CSI campus. Schwarz noted that no Idaho universities offer bachelor’s degrees in advanced food manufacturing, an industry growing rapidly in the Magic Valley.

Todd Schwarz

“This is a regional workforce matter in these two categories,” Schwarz said.

Nationally, there is a debate about whether two-year colleges should confer four-year degrees. Twenty-three states allow community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees, but only 19 do so.

Idaho law has allowed community colleges to grant baccalaureate degrees in liberal arts and sciences, business and education since 1965, but no Idaho community college has applied to do so until now. Instead of a traditional two semesters per year and four-year bachelor’s program, CSI proposes a three-year bachelor’s for elementary education running year-round with frequent program start dates based on enrollment numbers, Schwarz said.

The CSI teacher program would also have bachelor’s candidates do student teaching at local schools as part of the degree program, amounting to 23 of the 120 credits required for a degree. Normally, student teaching occurs after a bachelor’s degree is conferred, Schwarz said.

Schwarz anticipates the first class will have 35 to 40 students.

“This is very much about learning in a work-based environment, which really resembles an apprenticeship,” Schwarz said. “We’re trying to get students in classrooms as soon as we can.”

Magic Valley schools, manufacturers see value in local bachelor’s degrees

Twin Falls elementary school teachers taking part in professional development inservice sessions to align reading curriculum and assessment practices. Photo courtesy of Twin Falls School District.

Like schools in many places, Twin Falls School District faces teacher shortages, said Shannon Swafford, director of human resources at Twin Falls School District.

“I’m excited about the possibility of having a local pipeline of educators in Twin Falls,” Swafford said.

Swafford suspects that over the years many Twin Falls residents may have considered becoming teachers but chose not to travel to another city for teacher training.

“It’s just one more opportunity for people who want to become teachers,” Swofford said. “They don’t have to go somewhere else.”

The advanced food manufacturing bachelor’s program will offer many of the classroom sessions in the evenings or on weekends so employees in the industry can work and earn a degree at the same time, Schwarz said. Nationwide, the community colleges that are adding bachelor’s programs are serving a changing workplace where in the past a four-year degree was not as common in the manager ranks.

“Managers now require degrees,” said Beth Hagan, executive director of the Community College Baccalaureate Association. She said community colleges can help students who are already in the workforce fit the education in.

“If they are working, they can’t go to a university to get a bachelor’s degree,” she said.

Commercial Creamery in Jerome and Clear Springs Foods in Buhl both expect to send employees to CSI for advanced food manufacturing degrees.

“It elevates the technical level of employees,” said John Shaw, plant manager at Commercial Creamery, which makes powdered cheese for snack-makers. “To be competitive in today’s environment you have to have an edge.”

Commercial Creamery in Jerome expects to send employees to College of Southern Idaho to get bachelor’s degrees. Photo by Teya Vitu.

Few of the 120 employees at Commercial Creamery have bachelor’s degrees. But food processing is becoming more complex by the day.

“I would say right now less than 10 people have bachelor’s degrees and the degrees are not in anything related to food processing,” Shaw said. “If we can get another 10 people in potential leadership roles with bachelor’s degrees (specializing in food manufacturing), that’s what I would like to see.”

Clear Springs Foods, the world’s largest producer of farmed rainbow trout, sees the CSI bachelor’s program in advanced food manufacturing as an avenue to become more efficient, a primary goal in the manufacturing world.

“We’re always looking to be more efficient,” Clear Springs CEO Kurt Myers said. “We need the intellectual human capital to do it. It could be 10-15 people (enrolling in CSI’s bachelor’s program), you never know. Or we’ll pull graduates from that program.”

Mixed opinions

The higher education world hasn’t always embraced the addition of community colleges as an option for students seeking bachelor’s degrees.

“Certainly, there are arguments on both sides of the issue,” said Thomas L. Harnisch, director of state relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. “There has been pushback at four-year colleges (in other states).”

 

Statewide interest

CSI, College of Western Idaho and North Idaho College all appeared before the Idaho State Board of Education April 19 to discuss conferring bachelor’s degrees on the community college level, though only CSI is moving forward at this time.

 

Concerns involve possible duplication at two- and four-year colleges and a lack of resources for community colleges to adequately offer bachelor’s degrees. Harnish noted that community colleges with four-year degrees are often in remote locations or serve specific community needs.

“Geography matters,” Harnish said. “Most students don’t go more than an hour from their house to college.”

College of Southern Idaho Executive Vice President Todd Schwarz said Idaho State University has supported CSI in its push to offer bachelor’s degrees in elementary education. Idaho State has offered four-year education degrees in Twin Falls for more than 30 years but declined to respond to Schwarz’s statement.

“ISU remains a committed and supportive partner with CSI and plans to grow the availability of four-year and graduate degrees in Twin Falls,” Idaho State Executive Vice President and Provost Laura Woodworth-Ney said in a statement.

College of Southern Idaho’s proposal is now before the Council on Academic Affairs and Programs, a working group for the Instruction, Research, and Student Affairs  Committee of the Idaho State Board of Education. IRSA would make a recommendation to the board. While the law permits the bachelor’s degree proposal, the State Board doesn’t yet have a policy in place, said Mike Keckler, the board’s chief communications officer.

“The board has instructed staff to conduct a policy review to determine what needs to change in the current policy,” Keckler said. He added board staff is checking to see if CSI’s proposal creates a conflict or duplicates offerings.

CSI, College of Western Idaho and North Idaho College all appeared before the Idaho State Board of Education April 19 to discuss conferring bachelor’s degrees on the community college level, though only CSI is moving forward at this time.

CWI has a bachelor’s degree transfer center and an extensive relationship with nearby Boise State University. The Nampa-based community college has no plans at this time to pursue offering bachelor’s degrees, but supports CSI’s efforts, spokesman Ashley Smith said.

North Idaho’s most recent three-year academic plan indicates it will pursue offering bachelor’s degrees, possibly in diesel technology, applied business management, network security administration, and nursing, College President Rick MacLennan said in a statement. It hasn’t proposed anything specific to the State Board, said MacLennan.

About 164 miles to the south in Elko, Great Basin College, a community college, is attracting more graduating high school students and people in the workforce with its broad array of bachelor’s degrees, especially recent additions in English and biological sciences, college spokeswoman Kayla McCarson said.

“We are beginning to see more high school seniors who are choosing Great Basin College with the goal to attend graduate or professional school upon graduation from Great Basin,” McCarson said. “Bachelor’s degrees like the B.A.S in Management and Supervision is a degree pursued by many students who already maintain full-time positions who wish to advance in their respected fields, or advanced to professional positions that are otherwise hard to fill without qualified applicants in rural Nevada.”

About Teya Vitu

Teya Vitu is an Idaho Business Review reporter, covering commercial real estate, construction, transportation and whatever else may intrigue him in the moment. Join me on Twitter at @IBR_TeyaVitu.