TWIN FALLS — The College of Southern Idaho wants to offer its first two bachelor’s degrees — advanced food manufacturing and teacher education — but faces a daunting approval process.
The college’s board of trustees will decide Monday whether to approve the proposal, which would then go to the Idaho State Board of Education for consideration.
No Idaho community colleges are offering bachelor’s degrees. It means CSI is in uncharted territory and has hurdles to navigate.
“The approval processes are a little daunting, actually,” CSI executive vice president Todd Schwarz said Wednesday.
CSI wants to be able to occasionally offer a bachelor’s degree, but isn’t trying to become a four-year university.
“That’s not our mission and not our interest. That’s not what’s happening at all,” Schwarz said.
The two proposed bachelor’s degrees are both a response to employer needs, Schwarz said. “What they have in common is that they are responsive to regional workforce demands. I think it’s a coincidence they’re happening at the same time.”
CSI already has partnerships with Boise State University, Idaho State University, University of Idaho and Lewis-Clark State College to offer some higher-level degrees, such as bachelor’s and master’s programs, via distance learning or in person in Twin Falls.
Last year, state Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, sponsored a bill to change requirements under a 1965 state law that allows community colleges to offer four-year degrees. It was signed into law in March 2017.
Instead of requiring a population of at least 90,000 in the county where a community college is located, it’s now 90,000 people in the taxing district and assessed market value of at least $350 million. It allowed CSI to qualify.
Applied bachelor’s degrees — what CSI is pursuing for advanced food manufacturing — are becoming more common across the country, Schwarz said, and graduates would likely pursue management-type positions.
An advanced food manufacturing degree would benefit companies by providing trained workers, which is necessary for expansion, Glanbia Foods spokeswoman Peggy Watland said. “Anytime that can be impacted, it is a good thing.”
With the teacher education degree, “we’ve been prompted more externally for that,” Schwarz said, by school districts and the state legislature.
There’s lots of data showing there’s a statewide teacher shortage, Schwarz said. A January report by Regional Educational Laboratory Northwest shows the problem is worse in the Magic Valley than the rest of the state.
CSI wants a work-based learning program to get students into classrooms as early as possible, Schwarz said. It would be an apprenticeship-type model with a clear pathway to a teaching job in the region.
“As a district, we would be supportive of it,” said Bill Brulotte, associate superintendent for the Twin Falls School District. A consortium of local school district superintendents have talked with CSI officials in the past about how to address the teacher shortage.
The school district hired 20 teachers this year with alternate certification. It’s a struggle to find teachers, Brulotte said, and CSI’s proposal would be helpful.
Brulotte likes the hands-on approach CSI is proposing. “That’s the cool part to me,” he said about the focus on pedagogy. “That’s the hardest thing.”
Also, for some students who earn an associate’s degree in education at CSI, it’s difficult to continue on to earn a bachelor’s degree, Brulotte said.
Students can earn some education degrees, such as a bachelor’s in elementary education, completely in Twin Falls. But for a bachelor’s degree in secondary education through Idaho State University, for example, students have to complete some subject area classes online or in Pocatello.
So what’s next for CSI’s proposal? A college curriculum committee has already endorsed it. If CSI trustees give the OK, Idaho’s college and university chief academic officers would have a chance to comment. Then, a series of state meetings would happen, including with the Professional Standards Commission.
“Eventually, if it can clear all of those approvals, it will go on the state board of education agenda,” Schwarz said. He doesn’t anticipate that would happen until August.
“It’s a pretty involved process,” Schwarz said. The soonest CSI could possibly get its revised accreditation status is January 2019.
If all those pieces fall into place, the college could start offering bachelor’s degrees in August 2019.