In the fall of 2019, Boise State President Marlene Tromp set a challenge for the university: Find new ways to serve rural Idaho.
“Idaho, as most states, has a significant rural population. Ensuring that all of Idaho’s residents, regardless of where they live, have access to the transformative opportunities offered by higher education is a high priority to me and to Boise State,” Tromp said.
In response, Boise State’s Division of Extended Studies created the Community Impact Program. It allows students to stay in their hometowns while attending Boise State. It operates in three regions: McCall and the West Central Mountains, Mountain Home and Elmore County, and Payette and the Western Treasure Valley.
In the 12-credit program, students earn a certificate through a combination of online courses and workshops taught by Boise State faculty in libraries and city buildings in their hometowns Boise State designed every aspect of the program with input from community members.
“Most importantly, we didn’t prescribe what would happen,” said Peter Risse, associate dean of Extended Studies. “We led broad conversations about higher education in peoples’ hometowns. And we’re committed to delivering on our promise, staying engaged, and adapting to needs as well as opportunities.”
Coursework teaches skills like leadership, collaboration, business communication, entrepreneurship, and solving community challenges.
“We’re going to these communities and telling students, ‘why not start with a certificate and see what happens?’” said Rebecca Morgan, associate director for outreach in Extended Studies. “This is a way to wade into those college waters.”
The program offers participants a 50% reduction in tuition for up to 30 credits during the year.
No matter the path students decide to pursue — more college, a paycheck, or both — the program will leave them with a sense of civic engagement, more connections with others in their communities, and workplace skills.
“In rural communities you must link educational opportunities to economic opportunities. If you don’t, there’s a missing component,” Risse said.
Earning local buy-in
Robin Gilbert, superintendent of the Payette School District, described her district as “tight-knit.”
“A lot of our teachers graduated from Payette High School. They graduate here, and they stay here,” Gilbert said. This mindset is a perfect fit for the program, she added.
Julie Davis, executive director of the Mountain Home Chamber of Commerce, was among the city leaders who met with Boise State during the program’s planning phase.
“In rural Idaho, you don’t get as much attention as metro areas. The fact that Boise State is taking time, effort and funds to offer a program like this means we are getting resources we might not have had,” Davis said.
Because of the success of the program’s first year, the Mountain Home Chamber of Commerce looks forward to partnering with Boise State on additional internships and leadership programs.
“And if one of these programs inspires a student to create a new business in Mountain Home, or advance in their workplace, that, for us, is a win-win,” Davis said.
As much as the Community Impact Program is helping students and communities, it’s helped Boise State. Since the program began in the fall of 2020, college enrollment in the communities that host it has increased by up to 28% — from students outside the program — at a time when the rest of the state saw declines in college attendance from rural communities.
“This tells us that when Boise State shows up, it makes a difference,” Tromp said.
Boise State intends to grow the program in its three current hubs, expand in coming years to three additional communities, and eventually to as many as 15 throughout the state.