The Friday Letter
The Friday Letter is a weekly e-newsletter from the president. It includes a message from the president, UI news, features and announcements. It is a subscription-based newsletter sent to employees, students, alumni, parents and other friends of the University of Idaho.
Subscribe to The Friday Letter and update your preferred UI email subscriptions.
Summer is a great time to celebrate the accomplishments of our students. We take pride in providing opportunities for student success through access to a comprehensive, high quality education. While I can’t highlight every deserving student, I want to mention a few whose achievements embody the excellence of our university.
Vandals are leading the way in distinguished, national awards. This spring Alyssa Ertel, a third-year Honors program student from Kennewick, Washington, earned a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship. That award supports careers in science, mathematics and engineering. Alyssa, a student of chemical engineering and chemistry, is one of only 252 new Goldwater scholars nationwide this year. UI has had 11 students earn this award over the past decade.
UI also had numerous recipients this year of the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship, a competitive scholarship given to only 2,700 recipients nationwide. Sponsored by the U.S. State Department, the scholarship supports international study and internship opportunities. In the fall, sophomores Emily and Jordan Kizer used their scholarships to live and learn in Peru. Samuel Hermann, a senior international studies major from Genesee, Idaho, participated in a research project in Senegal. This spring junior Clarisa Lopez, a clothing, textile and design major, went to France. Joshua Warnick from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, went to Morocco. We’ll have two more Gilman scholars this summer: William Juarez-Tapia, from Filer, Idaho, is going to China, and Lauren Hirsch from Fair Oaks, California, is bound for Russia. I’m excited about the academic and cultural opportunities they’ll experience, and the perspectives they’ll be able to share with their classmates when they return to UI.
We also applaud the work of Katey Huggler, a senior in wildlife resources from Priest River, Idaho, who earned a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, a great step toward future study and an exciting career. Two Vandals have won Fulbright U.S. Student Awards: Anna Cantrell, from Bruneau, Idaho, will travel to Nepal for an English teaching assistantship, and Anthony St. Claire of Coeur d’Alene will travel to Senegal for an English teaching assistantship.
Our University Honors Program takes the lead in connecting students with many of these scholarships. Approximately 500 students, in all colleges and undergraduate majors, participate in the program. There are many opportunities for mentorship, peer support and involvement in everything from undergraduate research to volunteerism. The program is an invaluable part of the academic life of our research university.
These honors show the high caliber of students we have here at UI. We once again led the Northwest in the number of National Merit Scholars who chose UI as freshmen, with 23 of Idaho’s 24 scholars. These students are in the top 1 percent of high school students and pass a rigorous course of tests to become National Merit finalists. In addition, we’ll be joined next fall by a new Gates Millennium Scholar, Enrique Gutierrez from Parma, Idaho. It is a point of pride that these talented students choose the University of Idaho to prepare them for life and work. They enhance the academic vitality of UI for all students on their way to further distinction in the paths they take as Vandals.
We also have many students who are accomplishing great things in other ways. That includes the many students who volunteer in their communities and through programs like our Alternative Service Breaks. It includes those who take leadership roles in student government and in fraternity and sorority life. It includes those who excel in scholarship and creative work. And it certainly includes the many students who have overcome challenges of all kinds and found their way forward through higher education at the state’s leading, national research university. I congratulate our students on their success, and wish them well in their future as graduates and as citizens.
This week and next, we celebrate the accomplishments of students across our state, as more than 1,500 Vandals cross the stage as graduates. Each has contributed greatly to the vibrant cultural and academic climate of our university. We know that whether they’ve earned a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree, these students are better prepared to live outstanding lives. Our graduates today take their place in a proud history and a forward-looking mission, as alumni of Idaho’s leading, national research university.
Over the course of their UI experience, graduates took on new experiences, met difficult challenges and made the most of life-changing opportunities. They have practiced critical inquiry and opened their minds to new ideas. They have engaged in hands-on research, scholarly activity and creative work alongside professors and mentors who are leading their disciplines. Our students have also offered leadership and service that makes a difference and lives up to our ideals as Vandals.
I encourage you to visit our website to learn and share our graduates’ stories. Among our graduates today is Kelly Christensen, who has used her time at UI to engage deeply with academic work, to learn about herself, and to discover her potential for life and work filled with purpose and inspiration. She’s currently finishing an undergraduate research project that takes an interdisciplinary route to use math to understand and fight disease — fascinating work on the precipice of a promising career. Kelly is a student ambassador for the College of Science and she participates in UI Science Outreach, bringing the excitement of science to area elementary and middle school students. I’m proud of how she’s represented science and the University of Idaho to future scientists — and future Vandals.
Tomorrow we’ll also congratulate Joe Vandal on his graduation. Joe, our beloved mascot, is not actually walking across the stage, but the person who has brought him to life for four years is. Behind the mask, you’ve seen graduate student Rob Gibson at countless events, celebrations and gatherings over the years, bringing energy and enthusiasm to our school. Also the drum major for the Vandal marching band, Rob helped stir life and passion for our institution. Rob epitomizes what it means to be a member of a tribe from the North, brave and bold.
Each of our graduates has a story of success — challenges met, obstacles overcome and aspirations realized. As I have been telling our graduates, that experience positions them to succeed. Our global economy needs critical thinkers, innovators and risk takers. Employers need skilled, creative, diligent, conscientious people — and they look to our university to find them. Communities need leaders and volunteers, women and men committed to the public good.
In short, the world needs Vandals.
Where can a Vandal education take you? Just about anywhere on Earth — and in some cases, beyond. In April, we celebrated a “Month of Innovation” at UI, culminating with the College of Engineering Design EXPO last Friday. Each year at EXPO, we celebrate the capstone projects of our engineering students, invite high school students to campus, and connect with alumni and industry leaders who give their time as judges and advisors.
This year, UI welcomed back Tom Mueller, a graduate of the College of Engineering and a co-founding employee of SpaceX. If you’ve watched the news recently, you’ve likely heard of SpaceX and seen their work in action. This company is pioneering reusable rockets, seeming to make a major advance with each rocket launch.
Tom is from St. Maries, Idaho, in Benewah County, and the son of a logger. St. Maries is the gateway to the beautiful St. Joe River country, and a long way from SpaceX’s headquarters in Southern California. Yet, the University of Idaho was the launching pad for Tom’s career.
During EXPO, about 500 visiting high school students experienced a weekend that showcases life and work at UI and in the College of Engineering. They visited locations around the Moscow campus, met with students and faculty, and engaged in hands-on activities.
In addition to getting a taste of college life, these visiting students also got to see a UI engineering education in action, as more than 60 engineering teams, over 250 seniors, presented their capstone projects with booth presentations and technical presentations. Imagining, creating and refining a project is valuable, but so is the ability to communicate the importance of that work. The presentations are similar to TED talks, judged by industry and academic evaluators. Many evaluators were alumni who volunteered their time and insight and we appreciate their particular expertise and encouragement to our students.
Other Month of Innovation programs, events and initiatives included a student-organized TEDx event; an Undergraduate Research Symposium; the UI’s first Three-Minute Thesis competition and the Innovation Showcase through our College of Graduate Studies. The College of Business and Economics hosted Idaho Pitch and business plan contests, during which more than $30,000 was awarded to student-conceived business enterprises.
The entire month served to highlight that at UI, our students encounter new ideas and are encouraged to find fresh approaches across disciplines, and to have opportunities to refine those ideas through presentation and competition.
These experiences are critical elements of a transformative education. They help current students — and our future students — get a better picture of the possibilities and opportunities that come with a college education: the great heights a world-class education can propel them to. They, like Tom Mueller, can reach for the stars.
Yesterday we announced that the University of Idaho Vandal football team will accept an invitation to join the Big Sky Conference, pending State Board of Education approval, starting in fall 2018. UI Athletics Director Rob Spear and Head Football Coach Paul Petrino respect and will implement this decision.
This is the right decision for our students, for academic excellence and long-term success and stature of the University of Idaho. We are, first and foremost, the state's leading residential and research university. The experience of our students and growing our capacity to educate and innovate must be the focal point for all of our actions.
I want to remind everyone what our choices, which we have evaluated over many months, were. We could:
- Remain in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) of Division I as an independent after 2017, waiting for an invitation to join an FBS conference; or
- Join the Big Sky Conference, in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) of Division I, gaining full membership in that conference.
The key factors in making this decision were whether UI could realistically expect to become a competitive FBS team that would be asked to affiliate with a stable FBS conference, versus the value of joining the Big Sky.
UI has always been one of the lowest-resourced FBS football teams and has struggled to win. To become successful enough to affiliate with any FBS conference would entail unjustifiable, unsustainable expenditures with only a marginal chance of success. Enduring the significant challenges of competition as an independent weighed against an extremely uncertain future would be irresponsible when we have the alternative of joining one of the most stable FCS conferences that also allows us to renew traditional rivalries and offers our student-athletes the opportunity to excel at an appropriate level of competition, just as they do in our other Big Sky sports programs.
We are very proud of this year’s Big Sky Conference championships: women’s basketball, women’s soccer and women’s golf. Our men’s and women’s tennis teams and men’s golf team are playing for championship titles this weekend. Our overall athletic program, under Rob Spear’s leadership, has excelled and will continue to do so.
We believe in the young men and the coaches on our Vandal football team. They have competed at a high level in the Sun Belt, and I know they will play well this coming fall and the next. Coach Petrino has done an outstanding job, and I am pleased that he is committed to staying with our program. But long-term, having no FBS conference affiliation option is problematic for recruitment, for rivalries that students and other fans get excited about, and poses little to no financial advantage. Continued instability will not help us build a program, and it holds back the university as a whole. Full membership in the Big Sky conference means we have a voice in all conference decisions and a seat at the table next to similar institutions in our geographic region. It is time to make this move.
I understand some alumni and supporters do not agree that an FCS affiliation is our best option. Many passionate Vandals view our place in FBS as a mark of our institution’s “prestige” and “relevance.” The University of Idaho is our state’s land-grant university, the unquestioned statewide leader in higher education. Success on the football field should complement the prestige and relevance of our academic institution, but not define it. Rather, the impact of our institution will define us, as measured by the entire experience for our student body, including student-athletes; by academic excellence across the university; by sustained research, scholarly activity and creative success; and by deep engagement with communities and partnerships with industry.
Over the past year, we have carefully considered our options, listening to alumni and other stakeholders, gathering input through face-to-face conversations, emails and letters, social media and more. We’ve conducted thorough due diligence through internal review and through a report conducted by an independent third-party analyst. We’ve estimated the costs and benefits of independence as they relate to positioning ourselves for the conference affiliation essential for our university to participate at any level of college football. These estimates are both monetary and in terms of the total football experience for our university. Ultimately, that analysis suggests that the University of Idaho — our Athletics program, our student-athletes, our student body and fans, and our friends and supporters — are best served by a move to the Big Sky. We choose not to follow the faint hope of conference reorganizations, but to provide our athletes fair competition and the opportunity to succeed each time they step on the field.
This decision is without precedent in the modern era of college football. I see that a leap into new waters alarms those who care deeply about our university. But the Big Sky Conference is hardly unknown; we have a long history of success in the conference. Big Sky football is exciting and nationally competitive, and our fans will enjoy seeing familiar uniforms from around the region: Montana, Montana State and others. We are fortunate to have this option available. It is a change, though, so let us promise that together we will build a top-tier program that competes for championships. We will create an outstanding student-athlete and community-wide experience around our program, a vibrant football culture that provides a great front porch for Idaho’s leading, national research university, a draw for future students and a continued source of pride for current students.
I recognize this letter can’t answer all questions about this topic, and the move to the Big Sky entails many moving pieces, which we will address as they become clearer and as we have final plans. I also recognize the magnitude of this decision and the strong opinions that surround it, both for and against, but I am confident that joining the Big Sky Conference is the best possible course for our Athletics program and for our university. Of course, changes in the college athletics landscape may occur, and we will always seek the best opportunity for our students, student-athletes, and fans.
The university’s impact is felt every day by our 100,000 Vandal alumni. These women and men lead lives filled with meaning and opportunity. They exercise leadership in their communities and in their work. They are proud of their alma mater and give back so that others can have the same transformative experiences. I know some alumni will be disappointed by this decision. With the passionate support that separates the Vandal family from others, we are committed to a winning program in the Big Sky conference. I want all Vandals to experience success and pride, as part of a total University of Idaho experience that does right by its heritage, its land-grant mission and its future aspirations. That is the best formula for UI to assert its prestige and relevance — an impact that we will continue to grow in the years ahead. Today more than at any time during my presidency, I need your support, and I know that, long term, I can count on it.
As Idaho’s statewide research institution, the University of Idaho is in a special position to be responsive to the economic aspirations of our state. We live and work in a complex economy that includes vibrant agricultural, natural resources, technology and health care sectors. UI leverages expertise and resources to create a stronger Idaho for students, for employees, and for businesses who want to succeed with innovation and excellence.
Computer science is an area of strength at our university. We’re partnering with North Idaho College to allow students to transition from NIC to a four-year computer science degree at UI Coeur d’Alene. Cybersecurity, software development and computer engineering are critical in the technology sector and across industries. This program is an important investment being made by our legislature in the workforce needs of our state, and we will carry it out effectively. For North Idaho, this transfer option follows on the creation of the Cybersecurity Operations and Training Center in Post Falls. Funded with an Idaho Department of Labor grant, the new center will train up to 350 people, including those currently in the workforce, in the next few years.
Our faculty at the College of Engineering’s Center for Secure and Dependable Systems, led by Jim Alves-Foss, can attest to cybersecurity’s importance. Alves-Foss and his teammate Jia Song, a research assistant professor, are competing in the DARPA Grand Cyber Challenge, having already bested some of the top experts and institutions in the world on their way to the finals later this year, with a $2 million grand prize at stake. We are proud to lead with expertise in this field.
In southeastern Idaho, we have historically worked closely with the Idaho National Laboratory to train the workforce of this economic engine for southeastern Idaho. We train employees and others toward bachelor’s degrees in industrial technology, environmental science and advanced degrees in STEM fields. Cybersecurity is an important component of this work, too. We also partner with INL to conduct research in everything from nuclear engineering to geothermal energy – research that will fuel growth and opportunity.
Lastly, I want to point out new work serving the agricultural teaching and research component of our land-grant mission for Idaho. Last week in Moscow, Idaho State Board of Education members heard a presentation about our Western Initiative for the Dairy Environment, a developing initiative that will support dairy production and processing in Idaho. Our state is third in the nation in dairy production, and the industry represents 30 percent of our agricultural economy. We have an opportunity to support a critical industry, but also to ensure a stable and sustainable supply of protein for our world.
We are a comprehensive university, and each of our academic and research functions engage directly and indirectly with the workforce and economic needs of our state. We will continue to look for opportunities to serve our state and the students who are our future employees, entrepreneurs and community leaders — in our farm fields, in our business offices and behind our computer screens.
I invite you to watch the video below, from our 2016 Research Report, to see more of our research impact for Idaho and the world.
“Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men's blood." – Daniel Burnham
Several years ago, a friend of mine described the importance of sharing a vision when pursuing an important objective. His analogy was the stone breaker working in a quarry. If one views that job as breaking rocks, it's difficult to imagine being inspired or innovative about the day’s work. It’s hard to see how one would get up in the morning with enthusiasm to go break rocks. But if those rocks are headed for the Parthenon, you are no longer a stone breaker, but a temple builder, anxious to see how the next stone fits into a beautiful structure. This is the attitude that I believe each of us who loves the university must have, whether student, faculty or staff member, alumni or friend. And this is the attitude that can sustain us through difficulty and frustration.
Yesterday we shared our Strategic Plan for 2016-2025 with the State Board of Education. This plan, thanks in large part to the energy and innovation of Provost and Executive Vice President John Wiencek, has been developed with unprecedented collaboration and input. The plan puts forth a shared vision of what the University of Idaho can become if we all work together, as well as metrics for us to measure success.
This plan was not intended as a blueprint, but a conceptual sketch on which we can agree. A sketch in which everyone can see what we do, why we do it and how to contribute. Further detail will be developed at the college and division levels, and we have resolved to a yearly progress assessment and adaptation as the university evolves. But the key piece for our university to tackle its next 10 years with vision and intentionality is in place with this plan.
The strategic plan calls for UI to innovate and engage, to transform and to cultivate. No one could call our goals little. For instance, we plan to become Idaho's only Carnegie Foundation “R1” university for “highest research activity,” joining the very top 100 universities nationwide. Our plan also calls for enrollment growth to 17,000 students, while maintaining the outstanding experience for which UI is known. Enrollment growth is a key driver for resources needed to fuel institutional plan objectives, and it’s also important for meeting Idaho’s Complete College Idaho goals for 60 percent postsecondary attainment.
Over the next nine years, I view our job as building one of the nation’s great public research universities. A university that excels in its broad, land-grant mission of transforming lives through education and scholarship. A university that leads Idaho in building a college-going culture that transforms the lives of individual students, assures the prosperity of families, and strengthens Idaho communities. A university that takes its place among top research universities, not because we seek a particular label, but because we seek excellence and impact for our scholarship. A university that engages deeply with its constituents across the range of university activity. A “Beacon for Mountain and Plain.”
We are not stone breakers. We are Vandals, and we are building something big.
You’ve heard me mention the “Friendship Families” program at the University of Idaho, something Mary Beth and I have gotten involved with over the past two years. We’ve come to know students from overseas who have chosen UI as the right place to pursue a transformative education. The Friendship Families program has helped us get to know talented individual students, but also learn more about the international experience at UI.
One such student is Pavan Penkey, a master’s student in electrical engineering. Pavan is the president of the Indian Students' Association, a group of students and faculty members interested in celebrating and sharing Indian culture. This month I hope the UI community joins me in attending their annual India Night celebration. With great food, music and attire, this is quite an experience, one that can be fun and enriching for all students and faculty and staff.
India Night showcases a particular culture, but it is also a great example of the vibrancy that international students from 80 countries around the world bring to our campus and our community. They are drawn to UI by our reputation for excellence. Growing up and studying as an undergraduate in India, Pavan knew little about Idaho and less about UI, but a mentor knew of the excellence of Professor Brian Johnson in our College of Engineering, and recommended our institution. That’s the kind of word-of-mouth that we can be very proud of — the kind that travels over oceans and continents. We want to tell the world: This is a place where you can succeed, and where you can find a globally competitive academic experience.
The reputation is well-earned. One of our distinguished guests at India Night this year is Dayaldas Meshri, a doctoral recipient in chemical engineering who went on to found a successful chemical research company. (I’ll just say that if you use a cellphone, you use this company’s products.) We’re fortunate to have alumni like Dr. Meshri stay involved at UI, and come back to share their experience and perspectives. They are proof of how a Vandal education makes our country and our world a better place.
Our global connections offer a number of different programmatic opportunities. The Indian Student Association is one of many international student organizations that contribute to a rich campus culture. Our Confucius Institute is expanding cultural and language instruction across Idaho. Our Martin Institute offers programs on international themes and events like this week’s Borah Symposium, as well as degree paths for students in interested in international work. (All three of the latter examples are housed in our College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences.) UI students can travel and explore interests through Study Abroad programs organized by our International Programs Office.
There are many doors that UI hold open to the world. These are programs of depth and caliber only found at Idaho’s leading, national research university. As we continue to find new areas of growth and build upon current success, our reputation will continue to grow here and abroad.
The place where you attend college matters. Sounds obvious, right? Just find the right school. But I want to concentrate on more expansive definitions of place and “matters.” Where you attend school is not just about the name of the institution on your sweatshirt, but about the community you discover, the setting for your growth as a person in these important years.
Where you attend college is where you’ll grow as a person, work toward your professional future and forge lifelong friendships. Students won’t find any place quite like Moscow. This town is not just the backdrop to a university experience, it’s a special setting in which to learn and live. It’s a vibrant community, filled with opportunities for entertainment, recreation and culture; it’s also an unrivaled gateway to outdoor adventure. No surprise that Moscow has been named one of America’s top college towns.
This weekend admitted students have a chance to experience that for themselves during our UIdaho Bound weekend. Tonight is “Moscow Friday,” a downtown celebration with music and food. Mary Beth and I will join our city and community leaders in welcoming students to the lively downtown. With new restaurants and businesses, and more on the way, it’s an exciting time for our town. I can’t wait to show that off to our prospective students, and hope as many Moscow people as possible come out and join the fun.
On Saturday, UIdaho Bound participants get an extended opportunity to picture themselves as Vandals. They’ll take tours of our historic campus, where new facilities are coming to life. They’ll learn more about the hundreds of student activities and organizations on campus, see our residence halls and fraternity and sorority living options. Sessions on the logistics of college are critical, too, in everything from money management to registering for classes. We have late-night activities planned at our nationally recognized Student Recreation Center, as well.
We’ve changed how we approach this weekend. Previously, we asked students to come up for “Moscow Thursday” and take their campus tours on a Friday. That schedule represents a significant difficulty for parents and guardians to take off work. We wanted to improve access and minimize time off, so we moved the events to Friday and Saturday. Many students and families are taking advantage of the change to join us this weekend, and we have another great UIdaho Bound weekend on April 22-23, for which admitted students can still register.
I’m grateful to our faculty and staff, who are working to make Saturday a special day for prospective students. The close connections our students make with supportive staff and with faculty on the leading edge of their disciplines separates UI from other institutions. At UI, students aren’t just faces in the crowd — they’re engaged in hands-on learning opportunities with outstanding educators who are invested in student success.
Weekends like this help students still deciding on a school really understand what we mean when we say that UI — and our town of Moscow — are big enough to matter, and small enough to care.
Reading is one of the great pleasures in life. Access to libraries and the collection of scholars in one place with students were the foundation of universities in the Middle Ages, the early origins of our modern higher education system. Reading remains central to what we expect of students at the University of Idaho. It’s also central to the work of a president.
All freshmen and transfer students embark on a “Common Read,” a book selection that promotes a community-wide intellectual experience around a topic of relevance. Last year I joined our students in reading “All the Light We Cannot See,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel set in World War II. It was a great thrill to join our university community in hosting the author, Boise’s own Anthony Doerr, to give a presentation about the book.
Reading is an invaluable way to get information. I was told several years ago, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to lead.” If you’re not staying informed by reading widely, you might not be making the best possible decisions. So, aside from the inescapable world of email, what do I, as president, read?
Each day, of course, I scan the local news: the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, The Lewiston Tribune, the Idaho Statesman, The Spokesman-Review and more. The Argonaut, our student media outlet, is part of my steady diet, and I check the Idaho Business Review for a state business perspective. Our family shares a subscription to The New York Times, but most often, my expert “clipping service” of Mary Beth and our children send me articles. Facebook friends also direct my attention to articles of interest, albeit at the cost of too much Facebook time.
I am a higher education junkie, so the Chronicle of Higher Education, University Business Magazine and Inside Higher Education electronic briefings are daily rituals and great entrées to timely reports on higher education policy and innovation. Higher education books are on the list: “Designing the New American University,” by Arizona State University President Michael Crow; “The Innovative University,” by Clayton Christensen and Henry Eyring; and “Locus of Authority” by William Bowin and Eugene Tobin. Crow’s book, in particular, has influenced my thinking on the critical roles of public research universities in social mobility as well as in interdisciplinary research.
I don’t set as much time aside as I should for recreational reading, and my Kindle Reader reflects some eclectic interests, running from detective fiction to history – everything from John Grisham and Janet Evanovich to books like “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough. My occasional mention of the book “Warrior to Dreadnought” by David Brown has elicited some snarky comments about my tastes, but in my defense, 1865-1905 was a time of immense change in naval architecture, and the book highlights interesting engineering and change management issues. That’s reading, though – you nurture existing interests, cultivate new ones and share what you learn.
Writing this letter may give you some insight into my interests as president. It certainly increases my resolve to expand my reading. We’ll be announcing our 2016-2017 Common Read soon, and while I can’t give it away, I assure you that it looks like a very compelling book that will give us a lot to think about. I look forward to coming together as a community to read it, share our understandings, and engage with ideas that matter through reading.
Have you read any good books lately? Share them with me on Facebook.
What would March be without a little “madness”? The NCAA basketball tournaments are an action-packed time for colleges, student-athletes and fans across the country.
Having delivered a Big Sky Conference championship to the University of Idaho, today our Vandal women take the floor on college basketball’s biggest stage. They have drawn a tough opponent in Baylor, but I know Coach Jon Newlee will have them "ready to play," as he says. Our Vandals play exciting, team-oriented basketball, and they will give a determined effort in Waco, Texas. The game will be televised, and Vandals can come together across the Northwest to watch and root on our student-athletes. This is their third trip to the NCAA tournament in the last four years — an impressive run of on-the-court excellence.
The men’s team had a 21-win season and went to the CBI tournament. Though they had a tough loss Wednesday night, they played with heart and determination all season. We are all proud of how they represented our university and our state.
This weekend we are getting an up-close-and-personal look at NCAA Tournament action in Spokane. Thanks to Rob Spear’s vision, the University of Idaho is the host for this weekend’s festivities at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. That means that you’ll see UI people in Spokane, ready to talk about the tournament and the University of Idaho. You’ll see the UI name splashed across the court, and you’ll see Vandal banners proudly waving in Spokane.
Spokane, Eastern Washington and North Idaho are a vital part of our university’s footprint. More than 12,000 Vandal alumni call the area home. Many students from Spokane and nearby are currently pursuing a great future through a transformative educational experience at UI. They are discovering a top-tier academic environment; a community with abundant opportunities for service, recreation and leadership; and a nationally ranked value for affordability and return on investment. We are a higher education leader in the Northwest, and the UI reputation is strong and getting stronger.
Athletics are an important window into our university. We appreciate the opportunity to let the rest of the country learn more about our special institution. Join me and the rest of the Vandal family in enjoying the ride, and rooting for our Vandal women and for a special weekend of basketball in Spokane.
The University of Idaho serves the students of Idaho; that is a central part of who we are. But our impact does not stop at the state line. We are also a premier destination for students from across the United States. Those students find UI an excellent choice for a transformative experience and a great value from a national research university.
Last fall, 30 percent of UI students joined us from across the nation, representing all 50 states. The Vandal impact has national reach. Why? Simply put, we offer out-of-state students something they cannot find in other places. That means outstanding degree programs, unique experiences and a connected Vandal family that is like no other. Students from outside Idaho give back to the university, too, contributing perspectives and life experiences that create a vibrant living and learning community.
Our student body president, Max Cowan, originally hails from Portland, Oregon. He is in his second term as president of the Associated Students of the University of Idaho (ASUI). I’ve enjoyed working with Max president-to-president. I’ve seen him lead the executive branch of our student government with openness and integrity, valuing the input of others, designing smart policies and making tough decisions. Max is an environmental science and chemistry major. When he graduates this spring, he’ll have a bright future ahead of him, and he’ll leave behind a lasting legacy.
We have many students from even farther afield, including Sarah Rose, a National Merit Scholar from the Chicago, Illinois, area. I met Sarah nearly two years ago during a visit Mary Beth and I made to the Taylor Wilderness Research Station. A double major in ecology and conservation biology and rangeland ecology and management, for her senior project Sarah designed and built a garden at Taylor that supplies fresh produce to visiting students and professors. As profiled in the latest issue of our College of Natural Resources magazine, Sarah found Taylor and our Semester in the Wild program a chance to dive deep into a unique interdisciplinary educational experience, learning more about herself in the process. We’re grateful for the contributions she’s made that will live long after she graduates and heads into an exciting future.
Service, recreation, special programs — those are points of excellence that attract outstanding students like Max, Sarah and many others, and they are invaluable. But as a parent of students who have attended out-of-state institutions, I’m also sensitive to the price tag that accompanies that proposition. So I must point out that we are an option that many out-of-state students find affordable. Our net cost for non-Idaho students often compares very favorably to other states’ in-state net cost. That affordability helps our students graduate with less debt, positioning them for a stronger financial future.
We’re proud that so many students from across the U.S. join Idaho students in finding a place to flourish at UI. They’re discovering something we hope is no secret — that the University of Idaho is a unique institution. It is a place to explore new possibilities and to find the mentorship and hands-on experience that helps one forge a bright future. Just as it is a great place to be from, it is a great place to go … on your way to the rest of the world.
This week you heard news about the discontinuation of our football team’s affiliation with the Sun Belt Conference after the 2017 season. While the timing of the Sun Belt’s decision was unexpected, we face the future with options, and with confidence that we will choose the right course for our university.
Athletics is an important part of the University of Idaho. It serves as the “front porch” of our university and a place to build community. Athletics also provides opportunities for our student-athletes to excel in competition and in the classroom.
I doubt that many institutions can match the loyalty and enthusiasm of our Vandal family. Football brings us together, something I enjoy every football Saturday in the fall. We created the Fan Zone — an iteration of which you’ll see again next fall — and set a course to build an arena for our court sports, because we know that a university’s excellence is measured in part by the quality of its Athletics programs, and we must invest in Athletics if we want to see positive results.
I understand how important the conference affiliation decision is for our university. Over the course of the past year, in settings public and private, I communicated the value UI brings to the Sun Belt conference, and that our football program is on the upswing. Stability is very important in terms of finding a good conference fit for our university. And uncertain conference affiliation has challenged our ability to build the best possible program.
I know that our alumni, students and fans have passionate opinions about the right place for Vandal football and that there is a good deal of disagreement about where we should be going forward. There is strong support for each of our two current options after 2017: 1) play as an independent member of the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) until we can stably affiliate with an appropriate FBS conference, or 2) accept an invitation to join the Big Sky Conference. No other option exists nor can we depend on other opportunities arising. The Big Sky has asked UI to join them, setting a May 4 deadline on their invitation. A decision whether to accept that invitation, subject to State Board approval, is forthcoming, and we will be open and straightforward in how and when we communicate our decision.
The decision I make on behalf of the Vandal Family will be informed by what is best for our student-athletes, for our students and fans, and for our university. That means positioning our student-athletes to excel, securing the stability and autonomy we need to build a successful program for the long-term, and ensuring the very best student and fan experience possible.
I went to 10 of 12 football games last season, so I’ve had a firsthand look at how hard our student-athletes compete and the progress that they are making. I’ve seen the positive fan experience that a good crowd and a victory brings to the Kibbie Dome (a top-10 college football venue, according to USA Today), and I’ve appreciated the vibrancy on campus and genuine uplift in university-wide morale that results.
I will study our options and make the best decision for our university. We will build a future of football excellence at UI. We will build an arena to be an outstanding home for our court sports. I will count on our Vandal family to support that progress. No matter where our “front porch” is located, we will gather on it as Vandals — brave and bold.
This week marks the 49th anniversary of the University of Idaho’s acclaimed Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, an example of Vandal excellence in arts and culture and educational outreach. This signature UI event highlights some of the strengths of our university: our ability to bring culture and community together, our commitment to outreach and engagement with young people, and our opportunities for students to learn and excel through an experience they’d find no place else. It’s an exciting time filled with nearly 100 student-artist workshops, some 400 student performances and entertainment from leading lights of the music world.
The workshop and seminars over the course of the week give K-12 and UI students a chance to study with accomplished professionals, receiving mentorship and hands-on instruction. Secondary students visiting us this week also experience the college environment and have the opportunity to picture themselves succeeding at the University of Idaho. Not all of them will be music majors, of course, but we hope this experience opens up their idea of how accessible a college education is and how they can and should succeed in it.
This year the Jazz Fest experience has also come directly to high schools across the region through our Jazz in Schools program. More than 8,000 students in dozens of schools participate in the program. It’s an outreach program that only a university of our reach and mission can and or would attempt, and of which we can all be justly proud. Those students in our small towns and larger cities are gaining a window into a uniquely American art form. Jazz is about improvisation and collaboration — as music, it perfectly embodies the “Pathways to Discovery” theme. Those lessons go well beyond music, of course, and can be applied to a wide range of endeavors both academic and personal.
This year we’re excited to welcome a diverse array of professional performers to the Palouse, including many Grammy winners. It’s a broad range of music, from jazz funk to big band, to swing, to blues and more. Already this week we’ve seen our talented performers from UI join nationally recognized musicians for two nights of concerts. This weekend will bring another two nights of exciting music from well-known performers — I hope you’ll join Mary Beth and me in attending these events. We enjoy the buzz of activity in the Moscow community around this special week.
The Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival is a remarkable, multifaceted event. I want to thank the faculty and staff members, students, and volunteers who make it possible year after year. We have a passionate and committed advisory board and other alumni who care about this festival and appreciate both the music and the opportunity to showcase our university.
The past half-century of music festivals offers us a heritage and history that we can draw from to invigorate the festival in coming years. The Jazz Fest has enriched our community and opened up new pathways for students for many years now — I look forward to the festival to come this weekend, and to the bright future we’ll discover together.
In the early 1950s, the first lights powered by nuclear technology flickered to life in the desert of southeastern Idaho. The region has grown and thrived ever since, and the University of Idaho has played a key role in that development. In Idaho Falls and southeastern Idaho, UI carries out an ambitious and exciting research agenda, in partnership with organizations such as the Idaho National Laboratory and others. We also provide an array of educational opportunities, especially advanced education, and engage with communities through our Extension network.
The Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES) is a unique facility in Idaho Falls, promoting research that seeks solutions for renewable energy and training the next generation of experts. In partnership with the Idaho National Laboratory, UI is a leader among four institutions that come together to offer timely and innovative research, education and policy resources that have impact and benefits for our state. For example, the competitive Frontier for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE) grant examines the feasibility of establishing a geothermal laboratory in Idaho — a potentially very valuable resource for the entire region’s energy future. The Food, Water and Energy (FEW) nexus is also an important upcoming area of research, looking at the criticality of those resources in a changing world.
In most of these endeavors, the Idaho National Laboratory is a key player. The INL is a research and economic success story in the high plains of southeastern Idaho, and UI is proud to be an active partner in their efforts. Nuclear engineering is central to the work at UI-Idaho Falls. Rich Christensen joined UI in September as the director of nuclear engineering. With decades of experience at Ohio State University, Christensen and his team are fostering collaboration and responsiveness to industry needs, as they study everything from small nuclear reactors, to heat exchange, to the safety of nuclear systems and hybrid nuclear systems. We also serve the needs of the workforce in the region, including INL, offering their employees (and others) bachelor’s degrees in industrial technology and environmental science and master’s and doctoral-level education in multiple engineering and science-related disciplines.
Computer science is an area of excellence in southeastern Idaho. We have outstanding faculty in this area, including joint appointments with INL, who are seeing the needs of industry firsthand and are able to bring that perspective to students. New faculty member Michael Haney’s background in cybersecurity enables research collaboration with INL employees and gives students the best possible training they’ll need to take to employers, helping industry stay ahead of the game in this critical space.
We’re lucky to have the leadership of Executive Officer Marc Skinner at UI-Idaho Falls. Marc had previously worked at UI before serving as a faculty member and administrator at BYU-Idaho. He rejoined the Vandal family last summer, having forged great connections in the community and an understanding of the region’s educational offerings and needs. He’s involved with regional economic development, and recognizes how fast-growing and dynamic the region is — and how UI can serve that continued success. I’m excited about seeing the direction he’s able to take our research and education.
Lastly, I want to highlight our community engagement in southeastern Idaho. Through Extension, UI meets community needs in places like the Fort Hall Reservation, developing leaders there and across the region through programs such as 4-H. This is the often unseen work that is part of everyday life in town after town. We also recently hosted a community concert in Idaho Falls with the Lionel Hampton School of Music’s Jazz Band, Wind Ensemble and Idaho Brass Quintet. More than 500 people, including area high school students, attended the concert.
We’re proud to have an impact on the fabric of communities. UI employees don’t just have a passion for the land-grant mission of service to Idaho. We are community leaders, volunteers and dedicated citizens — wherever we are in this great state.
Idaho is our campus, we often say at UI. It is also our home. And we are proud to do all we can for the success of Idaho — our state, our home.
In “Beacon for Mountain and Plain,” historian Rafe Gibbs describes a mid-1870s effort to create a university in the Idaho Territory. In an address to the legislature, the governor noted that citizens, “inspired with a commendable zeal for the furtherance of the cause of education in our Territory, have inaugurated a movement for the establishment of a university at Boise City, to be called the University of Idaho.” History had other plans, though, and higher education had to wait until 1889, when the University of Idaho was established amid the rolling hills of the Palouse in beautiful Moscow.
Still, for more than a century the University of Idaho has maintained a robust presence in Boise and southwestern Idaho. An agricultural extension program was the first Vandal flag planted in the city in 1910. Exciting research, dynamic extension services and outstanding educational offerings have flourished in southwestern Idaho ever since.
UI-Boise offers educational opportunities for students at all stages. Our VandaLink transfer program, recently bolstered with an additional $185,000 in need-based support, creates a smooth pathway between area community colleges and UI four-year options. Students can pursue a bachelor’s degree in areas such as dietetics, education and psychology, or advanced degrees in engineering, fire ecology and management, bioregional planning and community design, and many more. Our new Idaho Law and Justice Learning Center, in the former Ada County Courthouse, is home to second- and third-year law options, with a first-year program planned for 2017.
Research is another piece of our statewide mission. At the UI Water Center, the Center for Ecohydraulics Research anchors a thematic commitment to the study of water, natural resources and the environment in Idaho and the west. The Integrated Design Lab helps design high-performance, energy efficient buildings, an important goal for 21st-century sustainability. Our Confucius Institute is expanding to Boise to offer Chinese language and cultural instruction, a boon for students and business leaders alike. Our James A. and Louise McClure Center for Public Policy Research publishes policy briefs and other items; its recent “Life After High School” report has attracted notice to the challenges Idaho faces in achieving its postsecondary education goals. There are many other valuable programs and initiatives, part of a commitment to exploring ideas that matter for Idaho.
The University’s research impact extends beyond Boise. In Caldwell, the Food Technology Center provides resources, space and expertise to facilitate entrepreneurial successes like Zacca Hummus. The Parma Research and Extension Center assists agricultural producers with research on everything from plant pathology to soil sciences. (The public can taste fruits of this labor at Parma’s annual Fruit Field Day in August.) You’ll also find research excellence in the Twin Falls and Kimberly Research and Extension Centers and at the world-renowned Hagerman Fish Culture Experiment Station.
UI also contributes to entrepreneurship and innovation with involvement in projects such as Trailhead, a community-based nonprofit that helps startup organizations and businesses; Tech Help, which offers manufacturing support and is Idaho’s affiliate of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Manufacturing Extension Partnership; and the Boise Valley Economic Partnership, which works to bring new businesses to the area. Our regional center director, Mike Satz, joins other UI-Boise leaders in getting involved with community and educational organizations, including the Treasure Valley Education partnership, the Educate Idaho Network, the Idaho Nonprofit Association and special projects such as Neighbors United.
The Vandal flag is waving high and proud in Boise and beyond. Nearly 16,000 Vandals in the area can attest to that. In the coming years, we’re going to keep leveraging our strengths as Idaho’s leading, national research university, and continue to grow our presence in Idaho’s political capital and economic center.
The University of Idaho is unique among colleges and universities in our state in that our teaching, research and outreach touch every corner of Idaho. From Priest Lake to Bear Lake, from Preston to Ponderay, and from Idaho Falls to Boise and beyond, Idaho is our campus. North Idaho, especially, is Vandal country. Our Coeur d’Alene center offers opportunities for students, outreach that meets community needs, and workforce development that trains citizens for the jobs of today — and tomorrow.
The Coeur d’Alene center, located on the banks of the Spokane River not far from downtown, is a growing hub for outstanding educational experiences, including a complement of certificate options and bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. Many offerings, such as our Executive MBA program, are ideal for adults seeking to continue their educations while working. The physical landscape of higher education in Coeur d’Alene is changing to meet new growth, as a new joint-use building in collaboration with NIC and LCSC will bolster support services and help students get the most from their experiences.
The Coeur d’Alene center actively develops entrepreneurship and innovation. At our Post Falls Research Park, an emerging business incubator, we connect great ideas with the resources they need to accomplish big goals. North Idaho is embracing industries of the future, including cybersecurity. UI-CDA recently won a two-year state workforce training grant and has added private-sector support to launch the Cybersecurity Training and Operations Center. The Post Falls center will train the next generation of in-demand employees to succeed in a risk-filled online world, helping them secure a bright future in a thriving sector of our economy. Cybersecurity is an emerging area of excellence at UI, and this center leverages that expertise for the entire community.
The Coeur d’Alene center also promotes tech savvy through the “Dign’IT” program, which includes coding camps for young people, a summer technology internship program for high school students, and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) labs for all age levels. UI-CDA houses the Idaho Regional Math Center, focusing on teacher professional development; a nonprofit leadership program; and a Community Water Resource Center that partners with experts and community members on water quality, research and education. The sponsorship of a community makerspace, Gizmo-CDA, rounds out our multi-faceted commitment to supporting the interests and needs of the community.
We’re lucky to have Charles Buck, associate vice president at the center, coordinating how we serve North Idaho from the center and from Moscow. He has built valuable relationships in the community, including taking a leadership role with CDA 2030, a collaborative project that helps groups and organizations work toward a common vision for a flourishing city. That work is a great example of the imaginative engagement our centers can bring to a community.
As in areas throughout the state, UI research and outreach and Extension are exploring solutions to complex problems and helping meet community needs. Research on water and natural resources continues to be important. In each of our Extension offices across the region, 4-H and other youth development programs continue to help young people grow as leaders and thinkers.
North Idaho is beautiful country. It’s also an area bustling with promise and opportunity. In the heart of Vandal country, UI is helping shape a bright future. UI President Chuck Staben
I would like to share some information on a complex issue: medical education in Idaho. Providing medical professionals to ensure the health of our citizens is an important educational mission. Healthcare encompasses many professions: physicians, nurses, pharmacists, physical therapists and more. This letter will focus on physician training or the medical doctorate (M.D.), in which UI plays a critical role. Understanding how medical education is delivered is necessary for making informed decisions about the future of such programs in Idaho – planning for smart and sustained growth.
The WWAMI program is the primary MD training program in Idaho. WWAMI stands for “Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho” – a partnership between the state of Washington, its top-rated medical school at the University of Washington, and the four, more sparsely populated nearby states that do not have their own public medical schools. Through this program, Idaho students receive the M.D. degree from the University of Washington, nationally ranked No. 1 for primary care, No. 1 for family medicine, No. 1 for rural medicine, and highly ranked in many specialties and in research.
For three decades, Idaho had 20 WWAMI seats. Last year, that number rose to 35 Idaho students. And this year, UI requested state funds to enroll 40 students in the Idaho WWAMI program. That growth has contributed to success for students and to a healthier state.
Physician training is long, complex and requires a system of universities, medical schools and residency programs. An excellent resource from which I will draw much of my data is the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) 2015 State Physician Workforce Data Book and related material on their website.
Preparation for Medical School – 4 years
Most aspiring physicians begin preparation for medical education as undergraduates in a bachelor’s degree program. Few colleges offer pre-medical majors, and prospective medical students may complete any degree program provided the requisite coursework in chemistry, biology, mathematics, physics and English is successfully completed before admission. Just over half of all students entering medical school in 2015 had completed a biology major, but many other majors are represented. All of Idaho’s four-year institutions offer appropriate prerequisite coursework for applying to medical school.
Medical School – 4 years
Physicians may hold an MD or Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) degree. As the degree that designates entry into the medical profession, these degree programs are considered Undergraduate Medical Education among medical schools, an often confusing term for a professional degree that follows bachelor’s degree attainment. Traditionally, medical school was a four-year educational curriculum that began with foundational basic sciences, and then introduced clinical experiences in hospitals and doctor’s offices as the curriculum progressed. Increasingly, new curricular approaches are integrating clinical work throughout training, requiring medical schools to have access to clinicians and clinical sites to permit such experiences.
Residency Training – 3-6 years
After completing an MD or DO program, almost all physicians pursue Graduate Medical Education, commonly referred to as residency training, for the purpose of establishing a specialty. Primary care residencies (Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, and Pediatrics) are typically three years of intense clinical experience in supervised settings. Other specialties, such as surgery or radiology, are typically six years and require even more specialized supervision. Many residencies are at academic medical centers, but they can also be at community hospitals. Idaho has residencies in Family Medicine based in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Pocatello; in Internal Medicine in Boise; and in Psychiatry in Boise.
Physician Workforce Needs
The AAMC is concerned that current physician training may not produce enough doctors to meet the United States needs in the 21st century. AAMC data clearly indicate that Idaho’s physician pipeline is very limited, which is why the University of Idaho has been working hard to increase physician training on multiple fronts.
Idaho ranks 49th in physicians per capita. We have less than 20 percent of the national average of medical residents per capita, and reasonable estimates of medical students from Idaho – enrolled in programs across the U.S. – indicate that our state enrolls Idahoans in medical school at less than half the per capita national average. Idaho students applying to medical school are well-qualified, with MCAT test scores and grade point averages very similar to national peers, and they are admitted at rates similar to all premedical students.
In sum, for its population, Idaho has a low number of practicing physicians and a small, but growing MD production pipeline. While we strengthen that pipeline, we can continue building upon the Idaho WWAMI program’s strengths and expanding capacity.
The University of Idaho’s Current Role
The University of Idaho plays important roles at all three stages of the physician pipeline. It is not certain how many UI students attend medical school after graduation, but we know that about 10 percent of all WWAMI students studied at UI. Clearly, UI plays an important role in pre-medical (bachelor’s degree) education, one we plan to expand.
Second, the centerpiece of UI’s role in medical education is the Idaho WWAMI program. In this program, Idaho students, no matter where they attended undergraduate education, access the UW School of Medicine via the University of Idaho. They complete their first 18 months of physician training in Moscow and surrounding rural communities, facilitated by UI faculty and area physicians. That experience is followed by clinical clerkships in 178 locations across Idaho and other WWAMI states. Students then complete an eight-week clinical rotation in one of the University of Washington’s highly specialized quaternary care hospitals, and may choose clinical rotations throughout the WWAMI network. Fortunately, most Idaho WWAMI students complete the bulk of their MD training in Idaho.
Last, WWAMI graduates, like most physicians, will complete residencies before practicing. WWAMI staff play an integral role for the residencies in Idaho. Residency is often the primary determinant of where a physician will practice. We are fortunate that despite the limited residency opportunities currently available within the state, 51 percent of all Idaho WWAMI graduates have practiced or are practicing in Idaho.
I hope you see that the challenge of educating, attracting and retaining Idaho’s 21st-century physician workforce is a complex one. The University of Idaho is pleased to have a world-class partner in the University of Washington to help us meet that challenge, and we are proud to have rapidly increased the number of students admitted to pursue physician training.
We have a long history and exciting future in training Idaho’s next generation of physicians. We need to work collaboratively to find solutions for access to medical education. Together, we can overcome our state’s healthcare challenges and lead Idaho to a healthier tomorrow.
Next week I will present the University of Idaho’s budget priorities before committees of the Idaho Legislature, sharing the story of our success and how we can build on that excellence. As our state’s land-grant institution, UI conducts teaching and learning, research and discovery, and outreach and Extension. Our ability to meet these responsibilities with effectiveness and strong fiscal stewardship means that public support of the University of Idaho is a sound investment in a great future.
What do we mean by “investment”? The economic impact report I shared two weeks ago offers some insight. Across the board, UI delivers return on investment for our students, our citizens and our state. The report convincingly demonstrates that higher education is not a luxury, and it is not an expense. It is the foundation for our shared prosperity. At the legislature, I will explore the success of previous years of investments, and make the case for programs and initiatives that will allow us to do more.
Last week, Governor Otter offered his budget recommendations as part of the State of the State Address. Though not directive, these recommendations often form the basis of legislative appropriations. The governor’s budget includes an increase in the Opportunity Scholarship, a new Completion Scholarship and an innovative Tuition Lock program. These programs offer ways to expand access to higher education. The tuition lock program provides stability and predictability for Idaho students and families, and it is philosophically consistent with commitments we have made as a university to ensure access and affordability.
The Governor also recommended a change in employee compensation of 3 percent, which will help us remain competitive in attracting and retaining outstanding educators and researchers, essential to the excellence of the student experience and our ability to do great work for Idaho.
Specific UI requests focus on enhancing our teaching and research missions. Our Complete College Idaho: Go On initiative bolsters the advising, counseling and supplemental instruction that helps students succeed in college. The effort will help ensure on-time graduation and improved student retention. On each of those measures, UI is the state’s leader among public institutions, but expanded capacity means we can set the bar higher.
The Governor also recommended five additional seats and increased funding for Idaho WWAMI — Idaho’s medical school. Through the Idaho WWAMI program, aspiring physicians from our state receive training in partnership with one of the best medical programs in the country, the national leader in family and rural medicine. With a shortage of physicians across our state, especially in rural areas, we’re fortunate to have a partnership that sees more than 50 percent of Idaho students return home to Idaho communities to practice medicine. Funding the Idaho WWAMI program is a much-needed investment in the health and well-being of our state.
As a comprehensive research university, we have other areas of need for which I’ll advocate. Those needs include maintenance and operation funds for facilities, such as our new Aquaculture Research Institute laboratory that delivers research expertise for our state’s world-class trout industry and hands-on learning for students, and for the new Integrated Research and Innovation Center (IRIC) that will propel interdisciplinary problem-solving and discovery for all of Idaho. We advocated for, and the Governor recommended, investments in our Idaho Geological Survey, in Forest Utilization Research, and in agricultural research that support the backbone of Idaho’s economy.
We appreciate the governor’s recognition of the excellence these initiatives help our university achieve, and how they help our state meet its short- and long-term goals for success and prosperity. The legislative process is a long process that usually culminates in March, but our first steps are promising.
Many of you have likely witnessed the proliferation of yearly college rankings, ratings and lists, all purporting to add information and insight. Instead of clarification, however, confusion is often the result. Why is an institution ranked in the top 50 of one list, but not in the top 50 of another, similar list? What methodologies are being employed, and how do they differ from list to list? What metrics are valuable for which user? As a student or parent, you’d almost have to make a part time job of sorting out and verifying competing claims and distinctions.
That shouldn’t be the case, and it doesn’t have to be. I have found that the federal government’s new College Scorecard report offers clarity, based on credible data, about three critical measures: affordability for students and families, graduation rates, and earnings after college. The first measure, affordability, indicates the degree of access to a transformative education. The second and third measures, graduation rates and earnings, highlight two of the most important outcomes of a college experience.
These easy-to-read charts showcase UI’s delivery of an excellent education at an affordable price – a value for our students and for our state.
Beyond those comparisons, the scorecard offers a breakdown of University of Idaho performance on a number of valuable measures. Interested in freshman-to-sophomore retention as an indicator of “fit” and student support? Our retention rate is 79 percent, above the national average. (For Fall 2015, our data shows an increase to 80 percent.) Concerned about debt after college? UI students who take on debt successfully pay it down at rates well above the national average. I encourage students and families to explore the site, make comparisons, and assess what’s important for their individual and family circumstances. We welcome the scrutiny.
Importantly, the data are based on students who received federal financial aid. That means those students who need and receive support in attaining a college degree – including many first-generation college attendees and students from rural areas – receive an outstanding return on their investment from UI. These students will experience firsthand how UI contributes to social mobility. They will go on to lives with greater financial stability, with greater satisfaction at work and in their personal endeavors, and with stronger rates of civic engagement. They will, in short, be on a pathway to realizing the American Dream.
The College Scorecard showcases how the University of Idaho is focused on making an outstanding education accessible to more Idaho students. For other Idaho citizens, UI supporters and education professionals, insight into how their state’s leading, national research university is performing with taxpayer dollars is a down payment toward credibility and confidence. For affordability, for graduation rates and for success after college, UI stands out in Idaho and across the region.
P.S.: This semester the President’s Office has joined Facebook! Follow me there for updates about the success of our students and faculty members, the progress of initiatives and programs, and the trends that impact higher education and Idaho.
Welcome to an exciting new year with the University of Idaho. Our family vacationed together, but I am glad to be back in Moscow, rested and ready for a great semester. I often speak to students about the value of a college degree in financial and personal terms, urging them to invest in themselves. Early in the New Year, I’ll speak to committees of the Idaho Legislature, and I’ll urge them to invest in the University of Idaho, as a way to ensure and enhance its many economic and societal benefits.
I’d like to begin 2016 by sharing a new report by Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI), a leader in economic modeling based in Moscow, showing just how much UI contributes to the economic well-being of Idaho. The EMSI report gives us a global view of the university, showing that UI’s economic impact is varied and far-ranging. The university generates economic activity through research that benefits industry, through operations across the state and through delivering a transformative education to students. Our new report shows a strong surge in total annual impact – $1.1 billion. That amounts to 1.9 percent of Idaho’s economy, as measured by Gross State Product (GSP).
What specifically drives this impact? Operations spending, including our 3,000 full- and part-time employees, is a part of the story, as is research spending. However, the majority of the impact, some $782 million, comes from Vandal alumni. That is the direct result of former students taking their skills, perspectives and experience to Idaho employers. Vandal graduates are earning higher wages courtesy of their UI degree, they are helping businesses reach new levels of output, and they are putting more money from those higher wages back into the economy.
To understand the university’s impact in this way is essentially to assess our role in workforce development. That’s a key part of what we do as an institution, and this report shows that our performance should give us a lot of pride. Creating opportunities for students to live up to their potential and contribute to organizations and communities across the state is the central piece of UI’s economic impact. It’s also at the heart of our land-grant mission. While there is more to the university than a dollars and cents analysis shows, we should be pleased that the leadership and commitment that is our heritage and our future can be so convincingly demonstrated in economic terms.
The University of Idaho, our state’s public, land-grant institution, offers outstanding return on investment. For students, the increase in lifetime earnings they’ll see with their degree is more than $844,200, an impressive 14 percent annual rate of return. For taxpayers considering the merits of supporting our public university, consider that “for every $1 of public money invested in UI, taxpayers receive a cumulative value of $2.40 over the course of the students’ working lives.” The annual return rate taxpayers will realize is 8.2 percent, “a solid investment that compares favorably with other long-term investments in both the private and public sectors.” Lastly, one must consider the social perspective of having more educated citizens – better health, less crime and more employment. These social savings and added income pay off for the state many times over the initial investment.
Graduates of the University of Idaho know well how their lives were changed. I have met many who have described the new perspectives, attitudes and maturity forged at UI that shaped who they are today. For Vandals, it’s about more than dollars and cents. But we shouldn’t shy away from touting the economic benefits the university brings to citizens and to the state as a whole. In fact, I think that for too long we’ve undersold our critical role in workforce development and in the economy.
Our public university is not an expense, nor is it a luxury. It is an investment, and an absolutely critical foundation for prosperity. We will work hard to strengthen that foundation in the year ahead.
P.S.: This semester the President’s Office has joined Facebook! Follow me there for updates about the success of our students and faculty members, the progress of initiatives and programs, and the trends that impact higher education and Idaho.