Then and now: Community, college have seen changes

Bonneville County’s population has grown by more than 40,000 residents, a 55 percent jump since 1990.

Idaho Falls has grown from 43,973 residents in 1990 to 59,184 in 2015 and Ammon has nearly tripled in size from 5,002 residents to 14,960 over the same time period.

Bonneville County is one of the state’s fastest growing counties, growing at double the rate of the U.S. population on the whole, according to an impact study from Research & Business Development Center in Rexburg.

The city of Idaho Falls’ 2010 comprehensive plan predicts the city will reach a population of 80,890 residents and the county’s population will grow to 147,073 by 2025.

On May 16, Bonneville County voters will decide whether to convert Eastern Idaho Technical College into a community college. They rejected a similar proposal in 1991. But much has changed in the past quarter century.

The cost of college attendance has increased dramatically. At Idaho State University, tuition and fees were $1,936 in 1990, according to an October 2014 report from Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy. For the 2016-17 academic year they were $7,036, according to the website. That’s an increase of 363 percent.

Between 1990 and 2013 state funding for colleges and universities decreased from 86.9 percent of total funding to 53.3 percent, while the share paid by tuition and fees rose from 13.1 percent to 46.7 percent, the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy reported.

A recent analysis from Student Loan Hero shows the average 2016 college graduate left school with $37,172 in student loan debt. Average student loan debt has risen 453 percent since 1990 when it was $8,200.

Lowering college costs and increasing employment opportunities are two big selling points for creating a local community college. The proposed community college would allow Bonneville County students to get college credits for $125 per credit hour versus $348 per credit hour at ISU or $170 per credit hour at BYU-Idaho, the proponents’ website said.

“Tuition will be 65 percent less than ISU and more than 20 percent less than BYU-Idaho, resulting in significant savings to local students and their families. That will reduce the burden of student loans and other expenses,” it said.

In 1990, 23.2 million of the nation’s 122.6 million jobs required college degrees — or about 20 percent — according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

“By 2020, 65 percent of all jobs in the economy will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school,” a study by Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute said. The study projects 165 million U.S. jobs by 2020 and says at least 35 percent — or about 58 million — of those will require a college degree.

In Bonneville County, 26.3 percent of residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the Census. Since the recession the number of local job openings requiring some college has more than tripled, the proponents’ website said.

Idaho National Laboratory officials are among those supporting the community college measure. A community college can help train the workers the site will need for developing technologies as well as to replace those who are retiring.

“Eastern Idaho will greatly benefit from more training and technology education to support our growing need in skilled labor and certified talent,” Stephanie Cook, INL’s Economic and Workforce Development program manager, said on the proponents’ website. She added that a community college would connect the needs of industry to education to develop more talent — “from welders to radiological technicians and lab technicians.