TWIN FALLS — Michelle Smith wanted to further her education with a bachelor’s degree, but her life is in Buhl. Leaving to attend a four-year university wasn’t feasible.

She has two school-age children and lives with her elderly grandmother.

“Being an older student, I’m already rooted in the community,” she said.

So Smith found a local option to meet her goals. She’s working toward a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with an emphasis in English through Idaho State University’s Twin Falls program.

She takes in-person classes at the College of Southern Idaho‘s campus and expects to wrap up coursework in the summer to start student teaching next fall.

The majority of CSI students want to eventually pursue a bachelor’s degree but don’t plan to leave the Magic Valley. It’s especially common for non-traditional students who aren’t right out of high school, have family connections in the area and have a job.

“This is their life,” said Christy Bowman, director of Boise State University’s Twin Falls program. “They can’t just pick up and go to Boise to do schoolwork and attend like a traditional student. They already have an identity here in the Magic Valley, so leaving is hard.”

Another factor: The cost of living tends to be cheaper in the Magic Valley than Boise, she said.

So what bachelor’s degrees can you earn in Twin Falls? Quite a few, including in business, education, criminal justice and social work.

And there are even master’s and doctoral degrees that can be completed locally.

Four universities offer face-to-face, online or distance learning classes via videoconferencing from Twin Falls: University of Idaho, Boise State University, Idaho State University and Lewis-Clark State College.

Some have an office on CSI’s campus. And they offer pathways to help students save time and money by knowing which classes they’ll need to take at CSI and once they transfer.

Helping students who want to earn a bachelor’s degree without leaving the Magic Valley was a key theme during an Aug. 14 CSI “State of the College” address.

In total, 82 percent of degree-seeking students are looking to transfer to a four-year university, executive vice president Todd Schwarz told employees.

The programs with the highest percentage of students who continue on to earn a bachelor’s degree are education, registered nursing, business and criminal justice. Those are all programs four-year universities offer in Twin Falls.

“Our students are apparently more place-bound than we think,” Schwarz told employees.

That’s something Boise State and other four-year universities keep in mind.

“With the programs we’re offering, they’re very community oriented,” Bowman said.

With bachelor’s and master’s degree social work programs, for example, she often receives phone calls from local employers around graduation time seeking recent graduates.

Boise State offers five programs with in-person classes in Twin Falls, with 178 students enrolled this semester.

Bowman also advises students who plan to move to Boise to continue their education. But that’s only about 30 percent of her time.

Lewis-Clark State College has offered in-person classes for education majors in Twin Falls in the past.

Now, it offers only online programs, serving between 15 and 20 Magic Valley students at a time — plus more in a registered nursing to bachelor’s degree completion program.

Business is the most popular major among Twin Falls LCSC students, said Brock Astle, a Boise-based assistant director of admissions.

Astle regularly visits the Twin Falls area. “We’re constantly evaluating what we’re offering in the Magic Valley,” he said.

After graduating from CSI, Filer resident Crissie Gard enrolled in ISU Twin Falls’ bachelor’s degree in elementary education program.

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Gard, who describes herself as a non-traditional student, has two children who are 12 and 14.

“Usually, I go to school when they go to school,” she said. But this semester is different because most of her classes start at 3 p.m. or later.

It’s her third semester taking ISU classes, but her first as a full-time student. Gard also works as a substitute teacher in Filer — usually at least two days a week.

Once she finishes her bachelor’s degree, Gard hopes to teach second grade in Filer. She loves the schools and already knows the employees.

Smith said she feels supported by her ISU advisers, program director and professors.

They’re easy to get in touch with and willing to answer questions, she said. And knows everyone she’ll be graduating with.

“It’s a great program and I’m really enjoying it,” she said.

Academically, Smith would like to see more programs offered in Twin Falls — particularly for education majors.

Secondary education students can take methodology classes in Twin Falls, but have to be in Pocatello for subject-area classes.

“It would be nice to see some more variety in that area,” she said. “We’re limited on what we can take.”

And being away from the main ISU campus in Pocatello can be a challenge — particularly in terms of outreach and student activities.

“We miss out on a lot of that in Twin Falls,” Smith said. “It can be kind of isolating.”

But without Twin Falls college programs, she and, many other students likely wouldn’t be able to earn a bachelor’s degree at all.

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