Ten years ago, if anyone asked which university in this state was the “flagship” institution of higher ed, the top undergraduate and graduate school, the state’s Land Grant school, the University of Idaho at Moscow, would have been the response.
Today that is not the perception. Many Idaho residents, especially in the Treasure Valley where one-third of the state’s population resides, would without hesitation say, Boise State University. The fact is indisputable: people equate success on the football field and the hardwood court to dominance as an educational institution.
Boise State’s remarkable run of success in imprinting itself not just on the consciousness of the state but the nation as well, as a legitimate contender for the national championship in Division I football, is rewarded. And those rewards are tangible in greater donations from alumni and student applications.
You have to doff your hat to the five-year strategic game plan conceived, implemented and executed by BSU president Bob Kustra. He and his staff have even done a brilliant job of changing perceptions by little things, such as always referring to the school as Boise State University. Rarely does one hear or see in print a reference to BSU, or the initials. Even the logo on the football helmets changed.
If nothing else, one has to concede that President Kustra and his team know how to market success.
To a large extent, Idaho’s Legislature and Board of Education have bought into the perception that BSU is No. 1, a notion that has been fostered skillfully. The bottom line is Boise State appears to have garnered ever more of the diminishing pie of state support. Without question, the highest paid person on a public payroll in Idaho is Boise State’s football coach, Chris Peterson.
Most of the time, perception is reality. In the world of academia, however, reality is the ranking of universities in terms of real dollars expended for research and in attendant doctoral offerings. Here is where the rubber meets the road.
Despite new marketing programs that tout Boise State as a research university, the facts belie the claim. It is here where even the adoring Idaho Legislature is shirking its responsibility to decently fund Idaho higher education. The consequence is a real dearth of Idaho’s top students attending its leading universities; they chose to seek their higher education out of state, and usually never to return.
Idaho’s major businesses can also be indicted for getting caught up in the fervor of football success, largely ignoring that the state’s system of higher education isn’t producing the quality workforce many of these businesses need to succeed in the world marketplace.
There are eight classifications that academia follows in ranking colleges and universities, put out by the prestigious Carnegie Institute. The highest category is for research universities, private schools like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Stanford, Rice and public schools like the Universities of Washington, Michigan and California.
The next category, the second highest, are universities with high research activity.
The University of Idaho and, surprisingly, Idaho State University, despite being constantly subjected to less state support, are in this second tier.
When the list came out this year some observers were surprised by ISU because the Pocatello school has one of the lowest graduation rates in the country (16%) and its enrollment declined 2.5% this year from last.
The enrollment decline for ISU was predictable as the state stood by and watched as the LDS Church converted the two-year Ricks College in Rexburg into Brigham Young University-Idaho with four-year course offerings and graduate-level courses. BYU-Idaho’s enrollment is approximately that of ISU with the Mormon school on the rise and ISU on the decline.
And where is Boise State University? Carnegie puts it in the fourth of eight tiers where it is classified neither as a research or a doctoral university but rather master’s colleges and universities (larger programs).
Those are the facts. No amount of football success, marketing, or political cheerleading can erase this academic evaluation. It will take real dollars invested in real research tied to real doctoral programs. The perception may be that BSU is the flagship. The reality is that the University of Idaho retains the title as far as the world of academia is concerned.
The real question, though, given declining state support, is how long Idaho and ISU can even retain the second-tier status, let alone a flagship designation?Share on Facebook