Rick Aman was having a busy morning Wednesday.
“There are a lot of people who are extremely excited,” the Eastern Idaho Technical College president said the day after 71 percent of Bonneville County voters approved a measure that will turn the technical college into a community college. The College of Eastern Idaho will offer associate degrees, credits transferable to other universities and dual-enrollment classes for area high-schoolers.
Technically, the vote means Aman will be out of a job because a new, local board of trustees will have the power to name the College of Eastern Idaho’s president. He plans to apply for the new post.
In the meantime, Aman said he and his staff have begun extensive preparations for the transition with the goal of being able to offer “vanilla” college courses in subjects such as English and mathematics that can apply toward a future four-year degree. Aman said the goal is to begin offering such courses as soon as August. If they encounter delays, courses will be offered in January at the latest, he said.
Aman said they are also working to begin offering appropriate courses online, and to begin setting up workforce development programs to train workers for local employers.
Many of those preparatory efforts will be paid for with $5 million lawmakers set aside to assist with the formation of the college.
In order to accomplish all those goals, officials have to move quickly to hire additional faculty and staff and to retrofit classrooms for larger expected classes. The college also has to get approval to accept federal student loans and to receive the necessary accreditation to offer classes for transferable credit.
Existing EITC students won’t be affected either during the transition period or after the community college is established, Aman said. The classes they are taking will continue without changes.
Aman said he would drive to Boise on Wednesday night, planning to meet with the Idaho State Board of Education on Thursday to work out details. The State Board will soon distribute information about how those interested in serving on the college’s board of trustees can apply. Aman said he hopes that board will be in place within two months, a time frame State Board spokesman Blake Youde said is reasonable.
Aman said it’s extremely unusual for an effort of this kind to achieve a supermajority on the first try.
“This kind of thing doesn’t happen,” he said.
The vote was hailed by many elected officials who had supported a community college.
“I am extremely pleased that the community has turned out and supported this important institution,” said Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls. “Yesterday was a hallmark election day. We’ll see the benefits and rewards for many years to come.”
Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said the effort to establish a community college “transcended politics” in a deeply partisan time.
Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper said the community college will help ensure that affordability will be a lesser obstacle for local graduates and older residents who want to increase their skills.
“An affordable education is a precious gift,” Casper said. “This is significant in terms of addressing that. I think that eastern Idaho will now have yet another economic engine.”
The news was hailed by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, who featured the proposal for a community college in two state of the state addresses and encouraged lawmakers to set aside $5 million in state funds for the transition.
“I couldn’t be happier about how the people of Bonneville County seized the opportunity to be the architects of their own destiny,” Otter said. “By approving a community college district, they set a great example of what citizens can do to create a brighter future for themselves and generations to come. I look forward to seeing the College of Eastern Idaho become a reality.”
Andi Elliot, one of the opponents of a community college associated with the Idahope political action committee, sent a similar statement.
The Bonneville County Republican Central Committee, which spent $8,600 against the college ahead of the election, issued a conciliatory statement.
“The Bonneville County Republican Central Committee congratulates those who worked so hard in a spirited campaign to pass the community college taxing district measure in Bonneville County,” Chairman Mark Fuller wrote. “The fact that it passed with a supermajority of the vote shows that the people of Bonneville County overwhelmingly support a local community college.”
The committee pledged to help make the college a success, but also called on the college to honor campaign pledges about the level of tax that will be required to support a community college. The campaign in favor of the college was led by Citizens for Affordable Higher Education, a local political action committee headed by a diverse group of civic, business and education leaders. The group raised nearly $90,000 in campaign funds to support the effort. It appears the heavy campaigning paid off, generating historically high turnout for an off-year election with few other major races. The May 16 election saw unusually high turnout compared to similar election years, largely because of the vote on the community college. “Usually for a May election, it’s not usually this high,” Election Supervisor Brenda Prudent said. For example, turnout for May 2016 primary — which featured many state legislative posts, including a vacant seat that was nearly certain to be filled by the winner of the GOP primary — was much lower than Tuesday’s primary. Only 19 percent of registered voters cast ballots in 2016 compared to 28 percent this year.
“It kept us busy and hopping. We were hoping that we didn’t have lines,” Prudent said. “Normally things are slower, but our workers were busy the whole day.”
Turnout was lower than the turnout for the March 2016 Republican presidential primary, when about 36 percent of voters cast ballots, but presidential elections generally have higher turnout than any other. Support for the college was spread throughout the county. In only three of 51 precincts did a majority of voters oppose the college. And in 35 precincts a supermajority supported the college.
Reporter Bryan Clark can be reached at 542-6751.