A turf battle? Boise State rips CWI’s bachelor’s degree proposal

Boise State University isn’t holding back about the College of Western Idaho.

And specifically, the two-year college’s proposal to offer its first four-year degree.

In written comments to the State Board of Education, Boise State minced no words. CWI’s two-year graduation rate is “dismal,” and branching into a bachelor’s program won’t help. CWI’s claim that its four-year business degree serves a new higher education market is “inaccurate, unsupported and frankly outright misleading.” And CWI “has not reached out” to Boise State about its idea.

Boise State’s comments are uncommonly blunt, but not isolated. The University of Idaho and Lewis-Clark State College also oppose the CWI proposal, saying it duplicates existing bachelor’s programs. Idaho State University did not submit comments to the State Board.

The rift between CWI and the four-year schools leaves the State Board in the middle. In December, the board will decide whether to approve CWI’s plan to offer a bachelor of applied science degree in business administration, starting next fall. It would be CWI’s first four-year degree.  It also would be only the second bachelor’s degree offered by an Idaho community college; the College of Southern Idaho offers an operations management degree aligned with the food processing industry.

Earlier this month, CWI trustees unanimously endorsed the business bachelor’s program.

A bachelor of applied science degree differs from a traditional bachelor’s degree, since students can put career-technical education courses toward their 120-credit requirement. CWI says it can offer a bachelor’s at a lower cost — about $20,000 in tuition. And college officials say their program would cater to students unlikely to pursue a traditional four-year degree: older students; students who have taken CTE courses; and high school graduates who are worried about the cost of four-year school.

However, all four of Idaho’s four-year schools offer business administration degrees. And in their comments to the State Board — their formal response to the CWI proposal — competition was a recurring theme.

“Boise State is offering a wide variety of flexible degrees in business or with business focus and that the assertion that ‘CWI is poised to reach a market that is underserved by four-year institutions’ is inaccurate, unsupported and frankly outright misleading,” Boise State wrote.

Like Boise State, Lewis-Clark invoked “systemness.” This is the word State Board members frequently use to describe a collaborative higher ed network with limited overlap.

The U of I suggests a Plan B: a joint program that would give CWI’s place-bound Treasure Valley graduates a “smooth transfer pathway” into a U of I online bachelor’s program.

At several points, Boise State’s written comments struck an almost personal tone.

While saying CWI might be its most important education partner in the state, Boise State also pointed out that CWI’s on-time, two-year graduation rate is 14%, the lowest in the state. “Simply offering a four-year program … will not move the needle on graduation rates.”

Boise State also sounded blindsided by the proposal. “CWI has chosen not to collaborate with their closest neighbor.”

On Monday, CWI said the four-year schools were responding to an earlier version of the bachelor’s proposal, and the college says it has used the criticisms to “refine” its proposal. CWI also took issue with Boise State’s graduation rates comments, noting that 27% of students graduate within three years, a rate on par with other Idaho community colleges and slightly below the national average.

CWI also released letters of support for the proposal, with signees including the Nampa Chamber of Commerce; Ball Ventures Ahlquist CEO Tommy Ahlquist; and Jamie Scott, president of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation.

The CWI proposal isn’t the only bachelor’s program on the State Board’s docket — and it isn’t the only proposal facing pushback from the four-year schools.

The College of Eastern Idaho also has proposed adding a four-year degree in operations management. Idaho State says the program would overlap with programs it already offers, less than an hour’s drive from CEI’s Idaho Falls campus.

“CEI’s proposed degree, if approved, would constitute a wasteful duplication of programming resulting in the inefficient use of taxpayer resources,” Idaho State said in its comments to the State Board.

Disclosure: Idaho Education News is funded through a grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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