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.”

State Education Board will build two INL research structures in Idaho Falls

The state's universities will collaborate with Idaho National Laboratory researchers at a new Collaborative Computing Center in Idaho Falls. Image courtesy of Idaho State Board of Education.
The state’s universities will collaborate with Idaho National Laboratory researchers at a new Collaborative Computing Center in Idaho Falls. Image courtesy of Idaho State Board of Education.

Idaho’s state universities and colleges will collaborate directly with the Idaho National Laboratory in two new research facilities that will start construction in May in Idaho Falls.

The Idaho State Board of Education will build a Collaborative Computing Center and a Cybercore Integration Center on 13 acres nestled between University Place and the Battelle Energy Alliance, the INL contractor. University Place is the Idaho Falls campus for Idaho State University and the University of Idaho.

Battelle will operate the new buildings, collaborating with students and faculty from Boise State University, the University of Idaho, Idaho State University and, to a smaller degree, also from the state’s other four-year and two-year institutions of higher learning, said Chet Herbst, chief financial officer at the state Board of Education.

“For our universities to be involved in cutting-edge research is a big deal,” Herbst said.

The partnership will enable Battelle to greatly increase its work in cyber security. Construction is expected to be completed in September 2019.

“These facilities will greatly enhance our partnerships with the Idaho universities to advance nuclear reactor technologies and solve some of the most pressing challenges to the security and resilience of the nation’s critical infrastructure, including the power grid,” said Mark Peters, INL laboratory director, in a prepared statement.

The state's new Collaborative Computing Center (blue C3) and Cybercore Integration Center (blue CIC) will be adjacent to Idaho National Laboratory facilities (left). Image courtesy of Idaho State Board of Education.
The state’s new Collaborative Computing Center (blue C3) and Cybercore Integration Center (blue CIC) will be adjacent to Idaho National Laboratory facilities (left). Image courtesy of Idaho State Board of Education.

The education board will own the buildings and sublease them to Battelle for $6.12 million a year. The 15-year lease is designed to make the annual payments on the expected $75 million to $80 million bond for the $85 million project, Herbst said.

“There are no general fund dollars being used,” Herbst noted.

ESI Construction of Meridian and J.E. Dunn Construction of Kansas City are the construction manager/general contractor, implementing a construction manager at risk process that establishes a guaranteed maximum price before construction starts. Flad Architects of Madison, Wisconsin, is the architect.

The State Board of Education bought the land from the Idaho State University Foundation for $1 million and will transfer the property to the Idaho State Building Authority.

Both buildings will be two stories with 66,000 square feet at the Collaborative Computing Center and 79,000 square feet at the Cybercore Integration Center. The CCC will be adjacent to the INL Center of Advanced Energy Studies and the CIC will be near the INL Energy Innovation Laboratory.

The Idaho State Board of Education on March 8 approved the land purchase and executing the Battelle lease.

“This is a great example of how we can work with industry in the state,” Board Member Emma Atchley said.




Boise State survey: Boise employers want accountability, maturity

Boise State University Professors Steven Villachica (left) and Eric Landron (right) want to connect professors with industry leaders. Photo by Brad Iverson-Long
Boise State University Professors Steven Villachica (left) and Eric Landron (right) want to connect professors with industry leaders. Photo by Brad Iverson-Long

Boise-area employers say they want college graduates to have relevant work experience and be able to take accountability for their actions, according to a new survey done for Boise State University by a Michigan State University professor.

The survey results, released at a Boise State event that was designed to connect business leaders with university professors and executives, also showed that the other top work attitudes sought by employers are a strong work ethic and an ability to interact with others in a mature way.

Phil Gardner, the director of MSU’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute, also surveyed Boise State graduates about the most important skills for their current job, as well as their first job out of college. He said that new graduates from most programs, including business and engineering, actually don’t use their academic content knowledge in their first jobs. Instead, they need to develop other work and life skills. Nursing and education students were the exception, in that they used the information they learned in college courses immediately after graduating.

Gardner said that increasingly, companies are looking for graduates that come in with work experience and all the skills needed to do a job, instead of offering on-the-job training. He also said Boise area employers find that many graduates aren’t meeting their expectations.

“Most employers say that there’s a pretty wide gap between what they expect the performance level to be on these skills and where the graduates are,” Gardner said.

Phil Gardner
Phil Gardner

Gardner said universities should look at a holistic approach to teaching the necessary skills, though it can be hard to figure out how to teach students skills like accountability and a solid work ethic.

“We don’t know what fosters all these skills and development,” he said, adding that some assume there’s a “magic wand of higher education” that imbues such skills. “We don’t know how to measure it. We don’t know what the antecedents of it are.”

Gardner spoke at the Skills Summit, an event aimed at connecting Boise State leaders with counterparts in industry and government. The organizers, professors Steven Villachica and Eric Landrom, said they want professors to talk to the people who employ their graduates and potentially collaborate on projects.

“Hopefully we’ve opened a door and now that this door is open, we can be looking at doing all sorts of things together that we didn’t have the scale to do individually,” said Villachica, a professor in the Department of Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning. He and Edmonds, a psychology professor, say there are pockets across campus of professors who link their students to businesses. They would like to see those grow, and will seek grant funding to pay for future Skills Summits.

Boise State is starting a new College of Innovation and Design in part to respond to the shortcomings that local employers have reported in their new hires. Among other things, the new college, which received approval Oct. 16 from the Idaho State Board of Education, will help students cross traditional disciplinary lines to acquire the “soft skills” such as teamwork, leadership ability, and communication that employers have reported they need.

The event also featured Idaho Department of Labor Director Ken Edmunds, who said Boise State and other colleges should work on more partnerships with other governmental researchers and private companies.

“Higher education has to be more aggressive in making those things happen,” said Edmunds, a former Idaho State Board of Education board member.

Ken Edmunds
Ken Edmunds

Edmunds also said universities need to make sure their lessons are relevant to students. Often, he said, they’re not.

“When we beat the theories in their head, and they go away and memorize then forget it the next week, it’s not relevant,” he said. Edmunds said he believes the state’s universities need to produce graduates that address the needs of Idaho, and that increasingly that also includes teaching the skills of adaptability, flexibility and having the foresight to change careers if necessary.