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One year in, Idaho State University president focuses on image, collaboration and the state’s go-on rate

Quick, name the university in Idaho that offers the most certificate and degree programs in the state, including private universities, regardless of size.

If you said Idaho State University, you’d be correct.

That may come as a surprise, but Kevin Satterlee, embarking on his second year as ISU president, is trying to make sure facts like that don’t come as a surprise anymore. (ISU offers 369 certificate and degree programs and includes associates, bachelor’s, master’s and even doctoral degrees.)

After he took the reins in June 2018, the university launched an ambitious advertising campaign over the past year seeking to brand the university and create greater awareness across the state.

At his direction, the university’s advertising and marketing budget went from $30,000 to $750,000.

That advertising budget came from the university’s reserve balance. It’s a one-time expense, but Satterlee said he is working on building advertising and marketing spending into the budget moving forward.

“The core reason we’re doing that is to let students know that we’re here and to start looking in that direction and realize we might have offerings that work for them,” Satterlee said.

The ad campaign, “Idaho State Roar,” featured videos, print ads, billboards and digital and social campaigns statewide, mostly in eastern Idaho, as well as the Treasure Valley. He said it’s still too early to see if the campaign is paying off, but the goal is to raise brand awareness, which anecdotally seems to be happening.

Satterlee visited the Idaho Statesman editorial board recently for a wide-ranging discussion about a variety of topics, including the ad campaign, the university’s enrollment, future challenges and reflections on his first year as ISU president.

Idaho is in an unusual position, with the state’s three major universities all with new or relatively new presidents. Satterlee, even though he’s been on the job for just over a year, is the senior-most president of the group now, as Boise State University welcomed Marlene Tromp and University of Idaho welcomed C. Scott Green as presidents earlier this year. Lewis-Clark State College also named a new president, Cynthia Pemberton, at the same time Satterlee was named at ISU.

Satterlee was named ISU’s 13th president in April 2018, completing a trifecta of sorts, having graduated from the University of Idaho and Boise State University. Before joining ISU in June last year, he was Boise State University’s chief operating officer, special counsel and a vice president. From 1995 to 2001, he was a deputy attorney general in the Idaho Attorney General’s Office and was assigned as the chief legal officer to the Idaho State Board of Education, so he’s in a unique and advantageous position for this role.

ISU is based in Pocatello with a satellite health and sciences campus in Meridian and a satellite campus in Idaho Falls along with a partnership with the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls. ISU has about 11,000 students — 59 percent are full time, and 41 percent are part time. The Pocatello campus serves about 9,000 students, Idaho Falls 1,000, Meridian 700 and Twin Falls 50.

ISU’s doctoral degree clinical psychology program was ranked No. 4 in the U.S. in 2018 by BestCounselingDegrees.net, and ISU has one of only six accredited nuclear engineering programs west of the Mississippi.

But Satterlee is clear-eyed about the challenges facing the university, not the least of which is maintaining enrollment, which he said has fallen off at the Pocatello campus in recent years.

Overall enrollment is bolstered somewhat by the successful program at the Meridian campus and is mirrored by enrollment gains in health and sciences fields in Pocatello. But more needs to be done to recruit and retain students across the board, he said.

One of the biggest challenges, Satterlee said, is simply Idaho’s low go-on rate.

“Idaho has enough students, if we can just increase our go-on rate,” he said. “I don’t need to be in competition with Boise State or University of Idaho for those students. We just need them all to go.”

Here’s a breakdown of some of the other topics we discussed:


Satterlee is collaborating with other Idaho university presidents about ways to be more efficient and advocate together for higher education.

“Most of the great accomplishments that you can see that have happened is when it’s been partnerships,” he said.

He’s also talking with the state’s newest community college, College of Eastern Idaho, and the University of Idaho on ways to make it easier for students to attend classes wherever they choose.

“What if we created a system where we eliminated the words ‘transfer’ and ‘articulation’ from our vocabulary,” he said. “Instead a student comes in, whatever door they come in, they see a path to graduation. What if it didn’t matter to me whether they took a class here and transferred. … If we start looking at seamless path education, that would be fantastic, I think.”

Diversity programs

“I’m open to a dialogue about this issue of the value of inclusion and diversity and welcome that conversation with anybody wherever they fall on the political philosophy,” he said.

He said much of the recent controversy surrounding BSU’s diversity programs started with a misperception about rainbow graduation, saying some people misperceived that the university held a separate graduation, when in reality it was a club that held its own celebration. “That’s constitutionally protected speech,” Satterlee said.

“What I think about inclusion is that it’s hugely valuable,” Satterlee said. “It is one of the fantastic things about a university campus. It’s all the multivarious voices and backgrounds that come together to have those discussions. And I firmly believe that if we want to affect the go-on rate, want to affect our economy and the way education drives an economy, if we want to affect our way of life, we have to have a better inclusion in that go-on rate, and in order to do that, we have to take students where they are. When they come to us, we need to be prepared to accept them and to help them move forward. That’s the reason we have veterans programming. We have veterans programming because they come to us with their background and their need and we all have veterans programming as a group, and that’s a good thing.”

Recruiting faculty

“Recruiting faculty is always a challenge,” he said. “There are some people who want to live in a medium-size city in Idaho, and there are some that that’s not what they want. So you have to find that right person who wants to come in.”

State education governance

Satterlee said he’s fine with the existing system of governance of one state Board of Education that covers kindergarten through higher education, as opposed to other states that have a separate board of regents for higher education.

“I don’t know if it (Idaho’s State Board of Education) has been fully utilized to its full potential,” he said. “It’s been stricken by regionalism at times, but the structure, itself, I don’t think is the problem … . I don’t think there’s an inherent evil of multiple institutions with a single governing board, but how that board acts and the things that it can do, the constitutional authority of the Idaho State Board of Education, vested in the constitution, it’s not a creature of statute, it’s a creature of the constitution, and if it was left to do the things it could do and actually exercise those things, I think we could see a lot of change in this state.”

Ideal ISU student

“Quite frankly, if there’s a student who is out in rural Idaho and they want the big-city experience and Division I football games with 40,000 people and want to be in the city, then they should go to Boise State because that’s where they’re going to be happiest, if that’s what they want to do,” Satterlee said. “So that student, I want to make sure they go there. But for the ones who we have the right programs and provide the right environment, I want them to come to us. … I think we appeal to rural Idahoans, everyday Idahoans who are looking for a smaller community environment which is what we provide.”

He said he was talking with a group of students from Colorado who said they came to ISU because Pocatello and eastern Idaho have a reputation for being a great rock-climbing location.

“Our draw is that big swath of southern Idaho that is made up of a lot of Idaho’s rural communities,” he said. “It’s kids who are looking for a smaller environment to go to school and not the big school, and I think there’s a big draw to that.”


During our conversation with Satterlee, the discussion turned to technical education and trades. Satterlee told a story about a conversation he had with his brother, who is a welder who works on heavy machine equipment.

Satterlee said that he suggested to his brother that he do weld-art, creating pieces of art from welding that he could sell at art shows and fairs. Satterlee said with clear pride in his voice that his brother turned to him and said, “Every single thing I work on is art.”

I think there’s tremendous reason for Idahoans to be optimistic right now about our higher education system. With Satterlee at the helm at Idaho State University, Marlene Tromp at BSU and C. Scott Green at the University of Idaho, I would say we have the right people in the right places at the right time to move us forward in higher education.

Scott McIntosh is the opinion editor of the Idaho Statesman. You can email him at smcintosh@idahostatesman.com or call him at 208-377-6202. Follow him on Twitter @ScottMcIntosh12.


What is this column all about?

This column shares the personal opinions of Idaho Statesman opinion editor Scott McIntosh on current issues in the Treasure Valley, in Idaho and nationally. It represents one person’s opinion and is intended to spur a conversation and solicit others’ opinions. It is intended to be part of an ongoing civil discussion with the ultimate goal of providing solutions to community problems and making this a better place to live, work and play. Readers are encouraged to express their thoughts by submitting a letter to the editor. Click on “Submit a letter or opinion” at idahostatesman.com/opinion.

Always full of opinions and tolerant of others, Scott McIntosh is the opinions editor for the Idaho Statesman. He has won dozens of state and national awards, including Best Editorial from the Idaho Press Club for 2017.