Boise State University

Boise State-Apple U? Facebook sports? Bob Kustra still has bold ideas as retirement nears

Retiring Boise State University President Bob Kustra threw out several bold ideas in his farewell address to civic and business leaders, including Gov. Butch Otter and Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, who attended the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Monday.

Backed by the sunny Boise Foothills at the Stueckle Sky Center, he quoted education guru Peter Drucker: "The only way to predict the future is to create it."

For Kustra, that means beefing up the university's access to its online classes and using digital technology to transform education and tailor the educational experience to individual learning styles, rather than holding to the old-school idea of in-class lectures and tests.

"Today's learners are at all different stages of their lives, especially adults," he said, and the university has to figure out how to meet their needs. "Professors are becoming more like guides as students navigate their own educational path through programs."

Kustra pointed to the College of Arts and Sciences program to allow students to cobble together three minors rather than one major course of study, providing more diversity of thought.

He also offered a glimpse of a potential future for BSU sports that could partner with social media giant Facebook for streaming Bronco football games, something that is now happening in the world of professional sports.

Most tangible idea

Kustra unveiled something beyond an idea — BSU's new Passport to Education program that will launch in January 2019. Developed by Kustra, College of Innovation and Design Dean Gordon Jones and CapEd Credit Union President and CEO Todd Erickson, Passport to Education will allow anyone affiliated with the education credit union to earn an online degree or certificate at BSU at a reduced cost — about 30 percent less.

Here's how it will work: People can enroll for six or nine credit hours, take classes online and pay a monthly fee rather than paying tuition up front.

Six credit hours will cost you $425 month, for a total cost of $34,000 for a four-year degree, starting from scratch; or $550 month for up to nine credit hours for a total of $29,333. It will take about six years to earn a four year degree with the first option, just over four with the second. But it will cost less than the $40,000 for a regular BSU online degree, and even less than the $38,000 at a national online university such as University of Phoenix.

This is just the first iteration of this idea, Jones said after the talk.

“CapEd is the inaugural partner,” Jones said. “The goal is to work with other associations in Idaho and beyond to help democratize education and help people who need a certificate for advancement or need to finish or even start their degrees – while they’re still working.”

Most provocative idea

Kustra suggested that the state restructure the governance model for Idaho colleges and universities. Currently the eight member Idaho Board of Education oversees education for kindergarten through graduate school.

He suggested a tiered system, like those in Oregon, Washington and Utah, where each university has its own board of trustees that oversees the president and approves budgets. There is another statewide board that addresses systemic issues, but each higher learning institution has control of its destiny.

"It might be something to study," Kustra said, in light of the challenges the Idaho Board of Education faced in the past year with three institutions — Idaho State University, Lewis-Clark State College and BSU — searching for new presidents simultaneously.

"This last year was the perfect storm. These eight board members had to keep track of three different searches, and on top of that, one of them didn’t go so well,” he said, referring to the search for his own replacement that is now entering a second phase.

Now that embattled University of Idaho President Chuck Staben will not renew his contract and leave in 2019, there will be two searches going on next year.

"I’ve just come to a point where that makes a lot of sense. I ran this idea by the governor two or three years ago but he was deeply embroiled in the budget and legislative session," he said. "I’ve talked to Brad Little about it, as well."

Most audacious idea

Kustra floated one wild and crazy idea which maybe not so far-fetched, he said: that tech giant Apple use some of the company's deep cash reserves to create a free online university system — starting with BSU.

He said he had a chance to pitch the idea in-person on a visit to Apple's Cupertino, California-campus last year.

The idea turned heads in the room and sparked some humor.

"Governor Otter was teasing me that maybe we'll just have an auction and sell to the highest bidder," Kustra said after the talk.

"The serious part of it with these four companies alone – Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft — and there’s others that have enormous cash resources, and they haven’t figured out what to do with," Kustra said. "It’s not out of the realm of possibility that someone couldn’t figure out a way to connect with a college or university, public or private — that needs an infusion of funding and make something happen. Something’s got to give with these companies. After all the trouble Facebook has been in you have to wonder if they won’t be willing to part with some of this money in more generous ways than they have in the past."

He hinted that the university is working on something that could become a statewide online university, "but it’s going to take a lot of money. We think we have somebody interested in paying those big numbers, but, again, Apple could come along and just say, ‘Hey, we’ll take on your online and call it the Apple Online University of Idaho. Why not?"

The atmosphere was jovial. Kustra commended Otter's leadership and his close working relationships with Kustra and Bieter that helped build a solid connection between BSU and the city.

Kustra expressed his continued commitment to Boise and his support of Boise State. He and his wife, Kathy, plan to continue to live in Boise.

"We fell in love with this community, we fell in love with this university," Kustra said. "I've trashed all my alumni letters from various places and we're now alumni of Boise State University."

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