IDAHO FALLS — Support to create a community college in Idaho Fall is growing and a local group is gathering signatures to create a community college district in Bonneville County.
A group known as Citizens for Affordable Higher Education announced that they are joining the effort to turn Eastern Idaho Technical College into a community college, specifically, they want the creation of the district on the May 2017 ballot.
The announcement by Citizens for Affordable Higher Education was made Tuesday, at EITC. Citizens for Affordable Higher Education is chaired by Mario Hernandez, the owner of Teton Toyota; Doug Crabtree, CEO of Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center; and Dr. John Liljenquist, the founder of the Rocky Mountain Diabetes Clinic.
This isn’t the first discussion about changing Idaho’s technical college into a community college.
Earlier this year, a socioeconomic study was conducted that recommended the school transition to a community college based on the national and regional statistics, labor market indicators, and need for increased education opportunities.
Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper and Ammon Mayor Dana Kirkham created a panel to look at the issue.
On Tuesday, Citizens for Affordable Higher Education outlined several key reasons they believe creating a community college in Idaho Falls is a good thing:
- The number of local east Idaho job openings requiring some college has tripled since 2009.
- A community college will save local students, both out of high school and returning to school, at least 20% and as much as 67% over regional colleges and universities. That will reduce the significant student loan burden for local students.
- The new community college will increase the ability to transfer credits over what is currently available through EITC.
- The proposed community college will be a significant economic development tool, providing talent for existing businesses and increasing the probability of attracting new ones.
- A recent report by the Research & Business Development Center in Rexburg states by year six a community college in Idaho Falls will generate $66 million in local economic activity annually and support 900 local jobs.
- The change is affordable. With EITC’s existing buildings able to hold 4,000 students (currently 700 attend), new buildings will not be necessary. With the $5 million already allocated by the Idaho Legislature for startup costs, the local property tax piece will amount to about $13 to $15 per year for the average homeowner in Bonneville County.
- The College of Eastern Idaho will be governed by a local board of 5 trustees elected by district allowing local residents to shape the future of the new college.
- The new college will be a unifying force in the local community.
EastIdahoNews.com reached out the Idaho State University for their take on the issue. ISU operates an undergraduate program at University Place in Idaho Falls, which serves several thousand students.
“Idaho State University will support the decision of the voters as they decide the future feasibility of a community college in Idaho Falls,” ISU President Arthur Vailas tells EastIdahoNews.com. “ISU’s focus in Idaho Falls is part of our service mission for the region as defined by State Board of Education, and our mission is to provide baccalaureate and graduate education. If a community college is eventually created in Idaho Falls, it would likely add to the pool of baccalaureate and graduate students in southeast Idaho, which would benefit ISU.”
Vailas went on to say that ISU has plans to develop a polytechnic institute in Idaho Falls.
To place the issue on the ballot requires 1,000 valid signatures under Idaho law and the proposed community college district would encompass all of Bonneville County.
The group says that using EITC’s existing campus will avoid the cost of constructing buildings and that the Idaho Legislature has already set aside $5 million for startup costs.
Establishing a community college district in Idaho Falls would raise current property tax in the county by between $13 and $15 per $100,000 in taxable value as determined by the recent Community College Study Panel.