A dozen students in a College of Western Idaho technology program have gaps in their knowledge after completing their first year of instruction, and some are asking the college for a refund.
Classes in the Internetworking and Communications Technology program were supposed to meet five days a week last school year but met for only three, said Mike Brown, 35, who has borrowed $12,000 to help finance his education. The classes were supposed to run four hours each but lasted for only a couple, three students told the Idaho Statesman. Lab sessions often could not be completed because of equipment problems.
The first five weeks was such a joke, said Brown, a drummer who enrolled in CWI in 2011 to help land a job that doesnt require traveling with a band.
College officials acknowledge there were problems with the course. They say they are taking steps to prevent the problems from recurring and will consider a refund, which would require approval by CWIs elected board of trustees.
We had a program that didnt rise to the occasion, Bert Glandon, CWIs president, told the Statesman. We had a program that moved students to a second year that didnt adequately prepare them to the level they needed.
Let me reassure you this will not occur again, he said.
David Wood, who instructed the first-year students last year and is the department chairman, declined to comment.
THE GOAL: CERTIFICATION
Students in the Internetworking and Communications Technology program are supposed to learn about routers, servers and creating ways for hundreds of computers to talk to each other.
The programs curriculum is approved by Cisco, recognized worldwide for its network technology. Students who take the CWI classes can also take exams that would identify them as having met Ciscos standards.
Thirty students are enrolled in the two-year program. One of CWIs major goals is to provide professional-technical training to fill employers demands in the Treasure Valley. The college has 9,100 students enrolled, and about 1,800 are in the professional technical school.
College officials acknowledged some problems with labs last school year. There were times where the laboratory equipment was not working appropriately, said Will Fanning, CWIs dean of professional technical education. But we believe those times were very isolated.
And he disputed concerns that the class didnt meet for the full time.
Fanning said there are two sides to the story on instruction the students received. The student would say they werent taught, he said. I think the faculty would say either they didnt understand or didnt apply themselves, or they didnt choose to absorb that information.
Brown said that is insulting. I dont know how much more work I could have put in, said Brown, one of nine students who signed a letter to administrators in September complaining about the program. He said he spent long hours in the lab working on the course.
Brown said he discovered gaps in his knowledge when he looked at practice certification tests and realized they covered material that had never been taught.
Another student, Scott Wheelock, 44, of Boise, said his knowledge gaps surfaced in a class this school year about securing routers against outside threats.
It just became more and more apparent that we had basic holes in our education that wouldnt allow us to successfully complete the security program, he said.
In the letter, the students wrote: It is painfully obvious that we cannot continue the second-year curriculum as scheduled because the foundation of knowledge and training needed to proceed was not adequately provided last year. The consensus among us is that the first year of this program was a waste of our time and money.
STUDENTS TOOK OUT LOANS
Problems extend beyond the classroom.
Chad Riemenapp, 35, of Boise, has borrowed $6,000 to help cover the cost of his education and family bills for himself, his wife and baby daughter.
Riemenapp worked for a national company that distributes movie discs but decided he wanted a better job. He used his savings and grants to help pay for the first year of education and received a student loan for this year. It helped cover the cost of the two-year program, which can cost from $6,500 to $8,700 for full-time student tuition.
Now, its pretty much paycheck to paycheck, he said.
Riemenapp and Brown said they have spent much of the current semester the first semester in the second year of the program studying and trying to catch up so they can move ahead.
Brown and Riemenapp say they want refunds for this semester because they have not been able to advance their education.
COLLEGE MUM ON TEACHERS ROLE
Wood is still teaching in the department, college officials said. They declined to discuss his involvement in the program, saying it was a personnel matter.
We are taking the appropriate actions with regard to any personnel issues, spokeswoman Jennifer Couch said.
Wood has been an instructor in the program at CWI since 2009, when the community college took over the Internetworking program as it assumed supervision of Boise State Universitys former Selland College of Applied Technology.
School officials say they didnt know about the students concerns until this school year. The sad reality is the students didnt communicate with us last year, Fanning said.
CWI programs typically undergo rigorous evaluations to assure they are delivering the quality instruction that students need, Fanning said. He doesnt know how this one went undetected.
Officials say they were already addressing some concerns, such as the lab equipment, before the students wrote their letter.
Since then, they say they have looked at several ways to solve the problem. They first said the students would continue their education and fill in knowledge holes along the way. But by the end of October, students said that approach was not working, Fanning said.
The school has hired a part-time technician to help students with labs.
CWI also said it has purchased special resource material to meet individual student needs at no cost to the students.
And Fanning said he is committed to opening the labs during winter break, which begins Dec. 21, to let the students catch up.
Fanning also said he intends to meet with all 12 students individually and work out a plan for each. School officials say they will take recommendations to the College of Western Idaho board on Monday, Dec. 10.
We are deeply concerned about the students and support actions to establish individual plans for each of the students to ensure they reach their goals and are satisfied with the education received at CWI, board chairman Stan Bastian said in a statement.
Glandon says everything is on the table, including refunds.
Fanning defends the programs overall success. It produces good results, he said. It produces them consistently.