TWIN FALLS • University of Idaho presidential finalist Chuck Staben met with university and extension employees Friday in Twin Falls.
Staben — provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of South Dakota – is among five finalists for the position.
He addressed about 20 people at a luncheon at the Stonehouse Event Center and then answered questions.
Staben, who has been provost in South Dakota since 2008, said he helped guide the university through difficult times, including a 13 percent decline in state funding.
Staben said the university also addressed declining enrollment, which is an issue at the University of Idaho.
UI’s enrollment dropped nearly 5.3 percent over the past year, from 12,493 to 11,844 students.
An enrollment decline can be “a real challenge to the university” in terms of its mission and financial base, Staben said.
Student tuition money is one of the most important resources for public universities, he said, although he noted that tuition costs and student loan debt are a growing concern for families.
Idaho ranks low nationwide in the number of students who go on to college. That leaves a huge reservoir of people who haven’t gone to college and could enroll as traditional or non-traditional students, Staben said.
“You can either see that as a failure or an opportunity,” he said, adding that he thinks UI needs someone with experience growing enrollment.
In 2008, University of South Dakota had a structural deficit and there were budget cuts handed down to university from the state legislature, he said.
University administrators “realized that tuition is really important,” Staben said, but that more funding needed to be focused on student recruitment efforts.
He said enrollment has grown since then, although he said it was disappointing that it dipped slightly this year.
Staben told the group that he also helped build the continuing education sector of the University of South Dakota.
He said he feels he has broad preparation for the position of UI president, including his experience with teaching, research, administration and athletics.
Higher education plays a critical role in society, he said, and communities are well served by research conducted at universities.
Staben said it has been great to talk to people around Idaho who are enthusiastic about UI and higher education. He said he has only met a few alumni, but they’re a passionate group.
The UI president position is attractive for many reasons, he said, mainly due to geographic location and the quality of the university.
Staben said he lived in California for 10 years and loves the western United States, including its topography and opportunities for hiking and backpacking.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, and a doctoral degree in biochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley.
After working in private industry, he worked as a biology faculty member and department chair at the University of Kentucky. Then, he worked as associate vice president for research before moving to the University of South Dakota.
The last UI presidential finalist to visit Twin Falls will be Laurie Stenberg-Nichols.
She’ll meet the university community at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Stonehouse Event Center, 330 Fourth Ave. S. in Twin Falls.