President Kevin Satterlee offered a hopeful — but also blunt — assessment of Idaho State University Thursday.
Speaking to the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, Satterlee pointed to several successes. Enrollment increased last fall, after nearly a decade of declines. Idaho State’s research portfolio reached $26.9 million last year, a three-year increase of nearly $10 million.
But Satterlee minced no words about Idaho State’s graduation rate — the lowest of the state’s public four-year universities.
“Our graduation rate is too low,” Satterlee said. “It’s unacceptably too low.”
According to 2021 numbers, 36% of Idaho State’s first-time, full-time undergrads received a bachelor’s degree within six years. By comparison, the University of Idaho has a 59% graduation rate and Boise State University has a 53% graduation rate, while Lewis-Clark State College’s graduation rate also comes in at 36%.
Improving the graduation rate, and helping students leave campus with a degree or certificate, is “a moral imperative,” Satterlee said. In an attempt to improve the graduation numbers, Idaho State is seeking a $420,700 budget line item to expand tutoring and academic advising, while using computer algorithms to at-risk students.
The university’s “Navigate” platform uses what Satterlee called “intrusive advising.” The Navigate algorithms are designed to identify students who are falling behind, before they even realize they’re falling behind.
“By proactively going after the students, you change everything,” Satterlee said.
Navigate is modeled after a program at Georgia State University — a university with similar student demographics to Idaho State. At Georgia State, the program improved graduation rates by nearly 20 percentage points.
Idaho State’s budget line items also include $773,100 to train high-demand employees, in areas such as nursing, and a $1.1 million joint nuclear program with the University of Idaho, which would be housed in Idaho Falls.
Like Boise State President Marlene Tromp on Tuesday, Satterlee also was asked about the 2021 higher education budget cuts, and what Idaho State has done to curb spending on social justice programs. Satterlee said Idaho State has moved all diversity program funding off of the state general fund and mandatory student fees; Idaho State now uses voluntary fees to cover these costs.
Satterlee also put in a plug for Gov. Brad Little’s proposed 5% employee pay raise.
Satterlee said Idaho State would need to raise tuition to fully cover the cost of a 5% raise. He said he didn’t want to impose a tuition hike, after holding the line for two years. But he also said he could not, in good conscience, withhold raises from employees who are helping Idaho State turn the corner on enrollment.
“The actions of our faculty and staff are taking hold,” he said.
JFAC has spent much of the week hearing from college and university presidents. U of I President C. Scott Green is scheduled to appear before the committee Friday.
Reworked ‘self-directed learner’ bill heads to Senate
The Idaho Education Association backed Sen. Steven Thayn’s reworked “self-directed learner” bill, and the Senate Education Committee unanimously passed it on to the Senate floor Thursday.
IEA President Layne McInelly testified in favor of the bill, offering the sole public comment.
He said the teachers’ union thinks the bill “empowers the educators in the classroom to partner with families to make meaningful decisions for the integration of appropriate, powerful and meaningful real-world learning experiences and environments for their students’ education.”
He also allayed a pair of lawmaker concerns that the bill would put an undue burden on teachers, arguing the bill is written in a way that would adequately involve educators.
Committee chair and bill sponsor Thayn, R-Emmett, said the bill would put the onus on parents to engage teachers to achieve flexibility for their students.
The bill would give districts the option of establishing a self-directed learner designation, giving students who earn the designation greater flexibility in their learning. That flexibility would include allowing schools to count self-directed learners as always in attendance, even if they aren’t, to collect attendance-based funding from the state.
ICOM president suggests using public funds to attract Idaho students
Only 19% of students at Idaho’s sole medical school come from in state, and 27% are from the surrounding five-state region, said the institution’s president, Tracy Farnsworth.
Farnsworth briefly told the House Education Committee Thursday that he’d like to see future state funding go to the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine (ICOM) to help change that.
“It would be nice … if this legislature would consider providing some kind of supplemental funding, at least to our local Idaho kids that go to (ICOM), particularly those that want to practice primary care, family medicine in rural communities,” Farnsworth told the committee. “One hundred twenty-five of our students are local Idaho kids that don’t get any kind of subsidy, like some of the other programs do.”
The Legislature already pays $7 million annually in attempts to add to Idaho’s relatively small fleet of doctors. Those dollars pay for the state’s participation in WWAMI, a deal between the nonprofit public University of Washington Medical School and surrounding states — Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho, as the acronym denotes. WWAMI gives regional students priority status in applying to the medical school and reserves 40 seats for Idaho students.
House Education Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, said WWAMI “is an important aspect of our medical education for Idaho students,” and that the committee may look deeper into WWAMI’s funding this legislative session.
ICOM is a private, for-profit institution in Meridian offering doctor of osteopathic medicine degrees, an alternative to M.D. degrees. It opened in 2018 and maintains a partnership with ISU; Satterlee sits on its board. ICOM’s first cohort of students will graduate this spring.
A technical change
Two multischool district partnerships can’t get added funding for their career-technical education programs due to the way Idaho code is written, Mike Keckler told Senate Education members.
Keckler, a spokesperson for the Idaho State Board of Education, brought forward a proposal to change that Thursday. Senate Education unanimously introduced it with no discussion.
The Canyon-Owyhee School Service Agency in Wilder and the Kootenai Technical Education Campus in Rathdrum, popularly called COSSA and KTEC, respectively, would both be able to get added CTE funding if the new bill becomes law. That would make them eligible for funds that singular school districts can already tap into.
The next step for the bill would be a full committee hearing.