Not often, but sometimes, the old line “if you build it, they will come,” actually does pan out.
It did at the College of Western Idaho. CWI became a reality over the objections of a significant number of skeptics.
Boise was, before then, either the largest or at least one of the largest metro areas in the United States without a community college. But then, people asked, why did it need one? It already had Boise State University, which had been growing at weed levels for a quarter-century. On the private side, the College of Idaho and Northwest Nazarene College (now University) were nearby.
What was missed was the large number of people who wanted a community college, who would attend if one were available. BSU and the private colleges have needed roles, but they are relatively expensive and, for people looking for occupational training rather than a full liberal arts education, a little forbidding. There’s a big chunk of the Idaho population that hasn’t and won’t make the direct transition from high school to college.
These people had no strong political voice; they weren’t much heard from in the halls of the Statehouse. But over time the business people who lacked a force of trained workers were heard. For decades the idea of a community college floated, bobbed along, but never reached shore.
About a decade ago sufficient gravitational mass in favor of it – financial, organizational, political – pushed it ahead. (The campaign in favor featured pictures of prospective students and used the advertising tag line, “Give us a chance.”) The vote to create a new taxing district to support the college needed a two-thirds vote, and it barely passed, even with help from influential people in the area including Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter.
Back then, the thinking was that CWI would be a small institution, serving maybe a few thousand students. If it didn’t flop. Initial enrollment in 2009 was 1,100. Last year, seven years later, it hit 24,265. Don’t be surprised if that figure eventually doubles.
Okay, that’s the past. Cast your eyes now to Idaho Falls.
That eastern Idaho city does already have a college, Eastern Idaho Technical College. It’s a useful institution too, with low costs, but limited in its size and scope. Its enrollment is fewer now than CWI’s was when it opened. It needs the breadth a community college, like CWI or North Idaho College or the College of Southern Idaho, all of which have much larger enrollments (and in the latter two cases, in smaller cities), could bring.
The push to transition EITC to a community college (the College of Eastern Idaho, to round out the compass points) has been underway for a while. But now it may have gotten that added bit of momentum.
A governor’s statement that something ought to happen is by no means always enough, as any governor could tell you. But in this case it could be important. In his state of the state address last week, Otter linked the CWI experience to the push for an eastern community college in what could be a strong kickstart.
The legislature already threw in $5 million in seed money (which it did in advance of CWI, too).
Then Otter added, “Now the people of Bonneville County must decide at the polls in May whether to invest in their own future by advancing plans to provide better opportunities for students and families, for those looking to improve their career readiness, and for businesses looking to locate or expand. After seeing the difference that the College of Western Idaho has made here in the Treasure Valley, after seeing how quickly CWI has grown to meet pent-up demand for new educational opportunities, and after seeing the overwhelmingly positive response from employers, the College of Eastern Idaho campaign has my full and enthusiastic support.”
That may help push some wary voters over the line.