College of Western Idaho is rethinking its future.
Four months after voters turned down a $180 million bond for to expand the Nampa campus and build a one in Boise, school leaders are taking a pause to think about what they will do next.
CWI Board Chairman Mark Dunham and President Bert Glandon say CWI is:
▪ Taking at least a year to reflect and come up with strategies on how to meet its large student body and increased demands for educated workers from health and other businesses.
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▪ Putting together a committee that will conduct a “listening tour” throughout Ada and Canyon counties to find out what people expect from the school, which opened in 2009.
▪ Waiting to expand in Nampa. CWI’s greatest need is the health sciences building planned for its Canyon County campus, but moving ahead with the building in Nampa without also offering voters in Ada County something concrete could kill voter support for any expansion projects.
▪ Thinking about how to build support for future projects. The officials say they thought the school’s growth, early successes and the potential to save the $2 million a year it spends leasing classroom space would have won support from voters.
Dunham and Glandon answered questions from Statesman reporter Bill Roberts. The conversation has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
What happened to the November bond measure?
Mark Dunham: I think there were many things in play. ... Plus, it was a really weird election year. I think the voters were just mad in general. It wasn’t just about CWI. And there were several other bonds in Meridian.
Why did you do put the measure on the ballot, then? Couldn’t you see that going into it?
Dunham: We thought that even though the (college’s opinion) poll results said it wouldn’t pass at (the time of the survey), we had a really good shot with ... advertising to put it over the top. And it didn’t happen.
The fact that the bond was $180 million, that was huge. And I think it was sticker shock. I don’t think people had time to digest the facts and figures (and) what we were trying to do.
What about published reports that you spent hundreds of thousands of dollars promoting the school in the months before the measure?
Glandon: Long before the bond, the board approved a public relations marketing campaign for the college. We keep thinking everybody knows we are here. We found out through (a survey) that less than 6 percent of people in the valley even knew about us. They thought we were the College of Idaho (a private four-year college in Caldwell) a lot of times. So the board had approved a major public relations marketing campaign to get the information out long before we ever went for (a bond measure).
Dunham: For years we budgeted money for advertising. We’ve had billboards, we’ve had commercials. ... So this is not new. Every year we set our budget. So our budget last year for publicity was $300,000-plus. It was a completely separate entity.
The timing is hard to miss. You’re doing a bond ... and here is a $300,000 campaign to say ‘We’re here, we do good things,’ and by implication that carries over to (the bond).
Glandon: If you look at our budgeting process, it was done in the spring (before the school decided on the bond measure). It was within the normal budgeting process. It’s too bad the timing came out the way that it did.
Do you have a committee that is looking where to go next?
Dunham: Not yet. When I became the chair, my goal was to set up a small committee to talk about our next steps. The first thing that the board has decided is that we are not going to pursue a bond for at least a year. We need more time to ... look at other alternatives. (Answer questions like) do we need to have that much square footage? So that is going to take a lot of time.
What are you looking at?
Dunham: The board had decided a year ago we will have an Ada County presence (in the bond measure). We’ve had an Ada county presence with 8,000 students and buildings (mostly rented space around Maple Grove and Overland roads) for years. I do not think a lot of people understand that. What we were trying to do was get rid of all these leases in Ada County and buy that piece of property (at Main Street and Whitewater Park Boulevard in Boise). Then we wanted to build a building downtown. We are not abandoning Ada County at all, because most of our students are from Ada County. We are not selling that property. That is why we are taking a year off to think what we are going to do next.
CWI is still facing criticism for its purchase of 10 acres of property in Boise’s West End. Opponents say the school’s purchase price of $8.8 million was too high.
So has that small committee come together?
Dunham: No. I’m the one who said we just need to regroup. I have not named the committee at this point. There will be at least two trustees. There is going to be administrative staff. I want to have somebody from faculty. I want somebody representing the CWI Foundation and I am also making sure we have people from Ada County and Canyon County. I want to know what people want for the college.
Is the day when you go to taxpayers and say “I need you pay for all of this” gone? Are people just tired of that? Do voters expect you to come to them with public-private partnerships?
Glandon: I don’t think it is totally done. But I think it is being revised and revisited dramatically. I think the message we take to the public and what kind of collaborative partnerships are in place (is important.)
Dunham: It depends what happen when we talk to all these groups and taxpayers throughout the two counties. I am hopeful we can prove our case. But I don’t know yet. I assumed ... people thought that we were doing a great job and I thought that would be enough. It’s not enough. So we are going back to the drawing board. We are talking to lots of constituencies.
We are looking at alternatives about private-public partnerships and we haven’t even talked to anyone yet.
Putting all the health science programs in that one (Nampa) building was hugely advantageous.
Bert Glandon, CWI president
Do businesses and others need to contribute?
Dunham: I agree there needs to be skin in the game, not just taxpayers, but industry. We are talking about that. I am not going to call the CEO of St. Al’s or St. Luke’s and say ‘Hey, give me a building.’ We are trying to take a more strategic look at what we really need. Public- private partnerships are a key.
In the sense that the private partners also put some money up?
Dunham: Correct. We’ve got to sharpen our pencils and go to work. We are going to talk to people. We are not going to talk at them.
Do both Canyon and Ada counties have to get something in the build-out plan?
Glandon: Our strongest pro vote was in Ada County (59.2 percent). If there is nothing in the game for Ada county, what’s the incentive for them to vote to tax themselves and increase the distance (to get education services to) the Nampa campus? If there is nothing in the game in Ada County or nothing in the game for Canyon County, you’ve just been divisive. You just split a vote cleanly.
What are some strategies to consider?
Glandon : (I thought it) would be hugely salable to the community that we are spending $2 million (today to lease classroom space). We could get out of those leases and actually provide the public with real buildings and real access. That didn’t float the boat. Getting out of the $2 million in leases didn’t carry the same kind credibility as saying we need a health science building, because we have two hospitals going up, we’ve got a nursing shortage. That carried way more credibility in the public’s mind.
What’s the downside of waiting for another bond or building project?
Glandon: We are now three years out (from new buildings under whatever new plan emerges). There is a huge nursing crisis. It creates a different challenge of how we are going to meet business and industry need and the community need.
▪ College of Western Idaho was created in 2007, when two-third of the voters in Ada and Canyon County voted to form the community college district.
▪ CWI opened its doors in January 2009 with about 1,200 students.
▪ Student numbers mushroomed to reached 24,424 in 2013-2014, and 24,265 in 2015-2016. That includes high school students enrolled in dual-credit classes; classes offered to employees and potential employees of local businesses; students getting their GED or learning English; and those preparing to go onto a four-year college. One of the largest growth sectors has been among students taking college credit courses in high school. That number climbed to 4,180 in 2015-2016.
▪ In 2015, the school began planning for expansion with a health sciences building and a student success center with a library and student counseling in Nampa. In Ada County, CWI officials envisioned a three-building campus in Boise’s West End.
▪ Voters rejected the bond in November, which would have launched the first of several growth phases.
▪ CWI received its initial accreditation earlier this week meaning it can do its own curriculum planning and add new degrees tailored to the community.