Boise State University will launch a new pilot program next fall, designed to help non-traditional rural students navigate college.
The model will fuse online courses with on-the-ground faculty outreach, said Boise State President Marlene Tromp, who announced the pilot during an address to Treasure Valley business leaders Friday.
Speaking at a Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Tromp pledged to work with business leaders to make sure the state’s largest university meets the needs of employers. But Tromp also urged business leaders to help Idaho improve its chronically low college completion rates.
The rural pilot targets some of Idaho’s nagging college completion challenges. Enrollment and graduation numbers lag in many rural communities. And in order to improve its graduation numbers, the state will need to convince older students and first-generation college students to pursue a degree.
The Internet can push college classes into rural communities, but first-generation students often drop out from online degree programs, Tromp said. So the pilot program will connect these students with in-person faculty support.
Tromp said she modeled the Boise State pilot after a similar program from Arizona State University, where Tromp had worked as a vice provost and dean. Arizona State’s pilot had posted an 86 percent success rate, Tromp told business leaders.
Boise State will launch its rural pilot in McCall, Mountain Home and Payette, interim Provost Tony Roark said.
Speaking for nearly an hour Friday, Tromp talked about her own experiences as a first-generation student from rural Green River, Wyo. “We had 7,000 people and a Taco Time,” Tromp said, to laughter. She also rattled off numbers illustrating what she called Boise State’s “incredible trajectory” — including a 64 percent increase in research funding over five years, and 17 straight years of increases in bachelor’s degree awards.
But Tromp urged business leaders to assume an even larger role in the future. Business leaders should hold the state accountable for providing a first-rate higher education system — while letting universities know what they want in graduates, and what they need to learn from researchers.
“Reach out to us,” Tromp said. “Let us be a servant to you.”
Responding to a question from Boise City Council member Lisa Sanchez, Tromp addressed the campus diversity and inclusion issue that has defined her first four months at Boise State, and put her at odds with some conservative lawmakers. Legislative critics have said campus diversity programs divide and segregate students and drive up college costs — even though many of these programs are funded through grants and corporate donations.
Tromp defended diversity and inclusion programs. For one thing, she said, businesses want these programs to continue. For another thing, these programs help students find their place on a campus.
“If we help students connect because of who they are … I am so proud of that,” she said. ”Because I want every last student to succeed.”