Idaho universities have a number of resources beyond state funding and tuition to help educate students. These range from a public-private partnerships to scholarship assistance made possible by private donors. But in many ways, our colleges and universities have no better ally than the Idaho National Laboratory.
▪ INL has 51 contracts worth $9 million for collaborative research with Idaho universities.
▪ There are 148 people from Idaho educational institutions working with INL, as interns, postdoctoral students, joint appointments and academic visitors.
▪ Idaho’s students and faculty have steadily increased their use of INL’s high-performance computing resources. The value of donated INL supercomputing time to Idaho schools exceeds $500,000 annually.
▪ Through its continuing education program, 189 INL employees are working with Idaho’s universities to further their degree or professional certification.
▪ The unique partnership between INL, the state and Idaho’s three major universities at the Center for Advanced Energy Studies has established an invaluable resource for our students, faculty and industry.
▪ Last year, legislators allocated $1 million for a lab, to be housed at Boise State University, and the University of Idaho received a $2.1 million IGEM grant to advance course offerings in control systems cybersecurity. These investments are used by students from each of Idaho’s universities, allowing them to receive world-class instruction from INL experts.
I could go on, but you get the picture. Higher education’s partnership with INL is incredibly important. Now we have an opportunity to take this unique collaboration to the next level.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 105 would authorize the state to finance construction of two new buildings in Idaho Falls: the Idaho Cybercore Integration Center and Idaho Collaborative Computing Center. The estimated cost for these facilities is about $85 million.
The state would use its bonding authority to pay for construction and lease the buildings to INL. Once the bonds are paid off, the state would continue to lease the buildings to INL, establishing an ongoing revenue source for higher education.
INL also has agreed to invest about $10 million in tenant improvements and technology.
Some have expressed concerns about Idaho’s taxpayers getting stuck with an $85 million bill if INL fails to pay down the bond. But Idahoans should understand that INL is a billion-dollar enterprise. Its annual payment to the state will be a tiny fraction of its annual budget.
State bonding is the preferred route because it costs less and gets the project done more quickly. If SCR 105 earns legislative support, construction could begin this year, and Idaho’s students may be using these resources by 2018.
That’s the nuts and bolts of this proposal. Now I’d like to tell you why I’m so excited about it.
INL is the nation’s lead nuclear research and development laboratory. It also has emerged as a world leader in developing broader clean energy, helping electric cars go longer between charges and farmers convert waste into usable energy, for example.
This cutting-edge research will help determine the world’s energy future. That’s reason for excitement and optimism. The Collaborative Computing Center would amplify this expertise, help meet the computation and research needs of Idaho’s students and faculty, and create a virtual education environment that would allow Idaho to become a national leader and an integrated resource for research and innovation.
The Cybercore Integration Center would address an area of major growth at INL: cybersecurity. Keeping our power grids and water and transportation systems safe is important work that requires more staff than INL has infrastructure to support.
This center would help meet this need. It also would enhance the laboratory’s effort to help our universities train Idaho students for careers in an expanding field.
Between them, these two new facilities would support or host 20 degree programs at our state universities.
Improving higher education in Idaho will take focus, planning and time. But with SCR 105, we have an opportunity do something today that will positively affect Idaho’s colleges and universities, and the students who attend them, for decades.
Mark Rudin is vice president for research and economic development at Boise State, where he oversees the Office of Sponsored Programs, the Office of Research Compliance, and other administrative and technical offices. His column looks at the state of scientific discovery and economic development in Idaho and beyond.