University collaboration could resurrect ‘higher education CEO’ proposal

Sharon Fisher//October 9, 2019

University collaboration could resurrect ‘higher education CEO’ proposal

Sharon Fisher//October 9, 2019

photo of little and university presidents
Gov. Brad Little, left, led a panel discussion of four university presidents, all of whom have joined since April 2018. Photo by Sharon Fisher

New presidents of Idaho state universities, with an increased spirit of collaboration, could resurrect a several-year-old plan to consolidate some university services to save money.

On. Oct. 8, Gov. Brad Little led what he called a “fireside chat” among the presidents of Boise State University, Idaho State University and the University of Idaho, all of whom started their terms within the past year and a half. They were joined by the president of the College of Idaho, a private institution based in Caldwell. The event was held at JUMP as part of Boise Startup Week.

Joining Little were Marlene Tromp, named president of Boise State University in April; Kevin Satterlee, named president of Idaho State University in April 2018; C. Scott Green, named president of the University of Idaho in April and Jim Everett, named co-president of the College of Idaho in February 2018.

“Never in my professional career as an educator in Idaho did I think I would tag this many institutions TOGETHER on the stage,” wrote Mike Satz, executive officer and associate vice president, southwest region at University of Idaho, on Twitter. “Wow. I. Am. Impressed.”

Consolidating services

A number of Little’s questions touched on “collaboration” and “coordination.” He mentioned their developing curriculum that would allow students to transfer seamlessly from one university to another should their educational plans change.

“The people here are the ones who can get that done,” he said.

The discussion was reminiscent of a 2018 proposal by then-Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter to hire a so-called “higher education CEO” to look for efficiencies by integrating and combining services across institutions. Otter included a $769,500 line item for integration of higher education systems, including $500,000 for a contractor to study the issue.

That year, the idea didn’t get much traction, and while a bill to implement the regulation was printed by the Senate Education Committee, it was never addressed during the 2018 legislative session.

But while Little didn’t give any specifics, and deferred details to the State Board of Education – which would have controlled the “higher education CEO” appointment – he agreed that, with the new presidents, the idea could be revisited at some point in the future.

Otter’s effort cited two reports. First, the Task Force on Higher Education called in September 2017 for the higher education CEO as part of its report, as well as consolidating back-office functions from the universities.

Second, a report presented to the Idaho State Board of Education on Dec. 20 by Huron, a Chicago-based consulting firm, said that consolidation of services could save up to $38 million over the next 10 years, according to a press release. But the Legislature didn’t address the issue during the 2019 session.

In addition to collaborating on curriculum, the presidents talked about collaborating on issues such as cybersecurity education.

Education and entrepreneurship

More generally, the university presidents talked about the importance of education – particularly research – in the technology industry and for entrepreneurs. Tying education with business and industry makes students more employable, Satterlee said, while Tromp said that Boise State’s reputation for innovation was part of the reason she joined.

Another issue that arose was diversity, which has come under particular criticism at Boise State by some legislators. Diversity has always been a focus in Idaho, Everett said, noting that the College of Idaho has students from 88 countries joining the 60% of the student body from Idaho. Diversity builds innovation, and working with students from overseas helps Idaho students learn to work across cultures, he said.

Little noted that JUMP – built by the family of Idaho businessman J.R. Simplot after his death – was an example of the value of education. Though Simplot didn’t attend college himself, he considered education important, Little said.