IDAHO FALLS — The Community College Study Panel has unanimously recommended expanding Eastern Idaho Technical College in Idaho Falls into a comprehensive community college.
Park Price, chairman of the panel, made the announcement on Tuesday during a press conference at EITC.
While the 11-person panel determined there is a need for a community college in Eastern Idaho and that expanding EITC would allow it to be created at a minimal cost, the public still has to weigh in on the issue.
“My hope is there will be a citizens group that will take this report, use it as a basis to then get enough signatures to put it on the ballot, and then educate the citizens in whatever the taxing district is going to be in order to get them to approve forming a taxing district,” he said.
Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper, who supports the formation of a community college, noted that it could take awhile to get this on the ballot. But some people have already expressed interest in moving forward with the effort.
“I believe there are citizens who have already started talking about taking that action, but they have not made themselves public or set up a website as far as I know yet,” she said.
The diverse Community College Study Panel included everyone from parents, education and business leaders to a former legislator, a media consultant and a high school student.
Over the course of several months, the panel, assisted by the Rexburg-based Research & Business Development Center, studied several issues including the need for a community college, likely enrollment, the cost of converting EITC into a community college, available funding sources, and economic impact.
The panel determined that there is a need for a community college based on several factors. For instance, a community college could allow graduating seniors and working adults who feel unprepared for university studies or who can’t afford them more opportunities to get an education. And it could increase the number of people transferring with an associate degree to other Idaho schools. In addition, they say there is a need for more educated employees.
“Employment data suggests that demand for jobs that require education beyond high school has dramatically increased in Eastern Idaho,” according to the report, which adds that it has more than tripled since the recession in 2009.
The panel also determined that a community college could enroll roughly 4,400 students after six years and around 6,000 long term. And costs to convert EITC into a community college would be minimal thanks to existing buildings and infrastructure.
Rick Aman, president of EITC, agrees. He said a community college would still offer technical programs, but it would also provide many more students with educational opportunities.
“We aren’t utilizing these six buildings in the way that we could. So, we can go from about 750 credit-bearing students to 4,000 and not have to build any new buildings. That is a huge increase at no capital cost to the taxpayers,” Aman stated.
The Community College Study Panel also determined that sources to fund a community college could be available through state general funds, Career Technical Education allocations, liquor tax funds, student tuition and the formation of a taxable community college district, according to the report.
“In addition, the Governor of Idaho has recommended and the legislature has approved $5 million toward the initial startup costs when EITC transitions to a community college,” according to the report.
The panel also found that a community college could eventually create or sustain more than 900 jobs through the college itself, student and employee spending, and supply chain activities. And there could be nearly $66 million in additional economic activity from operations and student spending.
“A full return on investment would occur after nine years,” according to the report.
Aman believes a community college, which typically offers tuition at about one-third the cost of a university, and gives people a chance to stay in the local community, could increase the go-on rate for graduating high school students. It could also help meet the growing need for technical skills in the workforce, he said.
Jan Rogers, CEO of Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho, previously worked in Southern Idaho where the College of Southern Idaho is based. And she said she knows how important a community college is and the role it can play not only in economic development, but also in uniting the community.
Rogers noted that the area is already bookended by two major universities. She believes a community college would only add to the available educational offerings and make it possible to respond quicker to workforce needs when it comes to expanding and attracting businesses.
“It’s critically important that we add this component to our arsenal in Eastern Idaho,” she said.
Rogers hopes the community college effort will continue forward.
“I’ve got my pompoms ready to go,” she said. “I’m going to be a major cheerleader for this throughout the entire campaign because it’s going to make a difference in people’s lives. And it’s going to make a difference from an economic development perspective for us retaining and attracting and expanding business.”