College of Idaho’s ‘unconventional’ co-presidents focused on sustainability

College of Idaho co-presidents Jim Everett and Doug Brigham say finding a sustainable business model is one of the most important challenges they face nearly a year into their unconventional presidency.

In February, C of I’s trustees upended the status quo by naming the duo co-presidents of the Caldwell-based private college. The model is unique, and neither Everett or Brigham have a typical university administrator’s background.

  • Brigham’s background is in finance and business. He built his career at Washington Group International and TitleOne Corp.
  • Everett spent 41 years building up the YMCA of the Treasure Valley before “retiring” in 2015. Most recently, Everett served as swim coach at College of Idaho — far from the traditional launching pad for a university president.

Somehow, through mutual respect, shared salaries and daily communication, the two make it work.

“If you are really aligned about your values and where you are going to, really it is not difficult to make decisions at this level,” Everett said.

Everett and Brigham told their story Monday during a City Club of Boise forum moderated by Idaho Education News senior reporter Kevin Richert. Although a bit of a buddy story emerged during the presentation, Everett and Brigham know they have serious work to do.

Early in their tenure as co-presidents, Everett and Brigham said one of the toughest decisions they had to make was applying a reduction in force to the college.

“The business model isn’t working, so we have to make some tough decisions,” Everett said.

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So far, they have identified several obstacles and potential strategies.

  • The college needs enrollment levels that support long-term sustainability.
  • They need to figure out how to make college more affordable.
  • They want to improve agreements and credit transfers between community colleges such as nearby College of Western Idaho to give more students more options.
  • They want to focus on recruiting Idaho-based students and recruiting students who excel academically, the way other colleges and universities recruit students who excel athletically.
  • They need to do a better job selling the value of a liberal arts education in an era when STEM and career pathways are a focal point.

“In a world of high-tech, rapid change where jobs are coming and going and the job you will have in five years may not exist today, boy, having a broad liberal arts education is more important than ever,” Brigham said.

They may not have all the answers yet, but Brigham and Everett said their unique administration allows them to manage tasks differently and build upon each other’s experience and strengths.

“I don’t know that we accomplish twice what somebody else can, but we are accomplishing more than either us of could individually,” Brigham said.

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