Guest Opinions

Innovative programs enhance University of Idaho’s unique impact on state, region

Chuck Staben
Chuck Staben

In 2014, I came to the University of Idaho with a belief in the unique power of land-grant universities to change lives and improve the world. As I approach the end of my presidency in June, that belief is only stronger. U of I has built on its legacy with a forward-looking vision and practical steps to make an impact for our state, its citizens and its communities.

Over the past half-decade, we’ve enhanced access to a high-quality education, streamlining access to postsecondary education with the Direct Admissions initiative and supporting Gov. Brad Little’s recommended 50 percent increase in Opportunity Scholarship funding. Bringing more students to college remains an absolutely critical mission for the state of Idaho – a practical, economic and moral imperative. Every student should have a chance to see how far their talent can take them.

We’ve also worked hard to improve the student experience and student outcomes. We’re meeting statewide needs with innovative curricula such as a four-year computer science degree in Coeur d’Alene, a new medical sciences degree and more robust online options. The Idaho WWAMI Medical Education Program, which trains physicians in partnership with the University of Washington School of Medicine, has doubled in size, expanded its facilities and centered its curriculum in Idaho. Our law program expanded in Boise to include a full three-year juris doctorate available at the Idaho Law and Justice Learning Center.

The numbers bear out the emphasis on student success: Last fall we raised our graduation rates by 5 percent, and we maintained a retention rate of over 80 percent. Some 90 percent of Vandal graduates have a job or plans for continued study at graduation, and Vandal alumni are leaders in early and mid-career earnings. We’re producing well-rounded, dynamic people who change our world.

We’re also producing results through our research enterprise. Annual research expenditures have increased nearly 20 percent over five years, to a record $111.6 million in FY18. Our work is highly relevant in traditional and emerging fields, from the farms and forests to the worlds of disease and cybersecurity. Students are involved from the beginning – two-thirds of undergraduates participate in research, facilitated by the Undergraduate Research Office created in 2015. We’re also serving industry more effectively, collaborating with Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, Micron Inc., the Idaho Wheat Commission, Limagrain Cereal Seeds and others.

U of I’s statewide reach continues to grow. We’ve laid the groundwork for a world-class research dairy in the Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment; acquired the Sandpoint Organic Agriculture Center; and begun rangeland studies at the new Rinker Rock Creek Ranch site in Sun Valley. We’re building new facilities for potato germplasm development, aquaculture research and Idaho WWAMI medical training here in Moscow. We’re also breaking ground on our long-awaited Idaho Central Credit Union Arena project this June.

The past five years have not been without challenges. Issues from a complicated budget picture to our athletics conference affiliation to leadership changes have forced us to make hard choices. But as an institution, where we’ve had challenges, we’ve risen to meet them. I know U of I is well-positioned for continued success.

Since 1889, the state’s land-grant research university has existed to serve the students, communities and industries of Idaho, a beautiful state with unlimited potential. It has been the highest honor of my professional life to lead that mission. I thank the countless supporters of the University of Idaho – our alumni, our students, our faculty and staff, and our partners in government, industry and communities. Even as I step aside as president, I join you in optimism for the work to come.

Chuck Staben is the outgoing president of the University of Idaho in Moscow.