Local column: The next best thing

Converting Eastern Idaho Technical College into a community college is one of the best things for the community since the Idaho National Lab came to town, write Carrie and Jerry Scheid.

Carrie: What do you think about converting Eastern Idaho Technical College (EITC) into a community college?

Jerry: It’s one of the best things for the community since the Idaho National Lab came to town.

Carrie: Why?

Jerry: Let’s start with the INL. If we want to keep them here, we need to provide them with college educated workers to replace the baby boomers who are retiring in droves. Did you know that since 2009, the number of local job openings requiring some college has more than TRIPLED?

Carrie: Doesn’t EITC already offer two year degrees?

Jerry: As a technical college, EITC is limited by state statute in what it can do. It can only offer an “associate of applied science” degree which, in most cases, isn’t transferable to four year colleges. As a community college, it will keep all its technical programs but will add general education and other programs which will be transferable to Idaho’s four year institutions. This creates a “student pipeline” which is one reason why ISU and BYU-Idaho are supportive.

Carrie: Why is credit transfer important?

Jerry: Let’s say EITC becomes a community college. A student who enrolls there would pay only $125/ credit hour compared to $348/credit hour at ISU. If they complete their first two years at the community college, they could earn an associate degree and transfer to ISU as a junior. This would save them over $13,000 in tuition costs.

Carrie: That’s huge! It makes a four year degree much more affordable and lowers student debt. Did you know that 68% of Idaho’s public university graduates have college loans? The average debt is a whopping $27,000 - $30,000.

Jerry: Ouch!

Carrie: So why would anyone oppose converting EITC into a community college?

Jerry: Because it will slightly increase our property taxes. State law requires some local funding from property taxes to establish a community college. For Bonneville County, the cost is $15 per $100,000 in property valuation. But when you factor in the homeowners exemption, the average Bonneville homeowner will pay only $13 per year.

Carrie: That’s about a dollar per month! It’s also roughly one third of what the average homeowner pays for the county dump. We own several rental properties; how will it affect us?

Jerry: Because we don’t get the homeowners exemption on our rentals, we’ll pay about $150 per year. That’s a lot of community education, jobs, and economic growth for very little money.

Carrie: Why is the community college tax rate so cheap for Bonneville taxpayers?

Jerry: Because we aren’t starting a community college from scratch. The EITC campus already has land and lots of buildings. They currently serve 700 students but could handle 4000. With that kind of growth potential, you don’t have to worry about them coming back to us taxpayers for more money down the road.

Carrie: In addition, the Legislature has approved $5 million for startup costs, but only if Bonneville County voters approve the community college district.

Jerry: Voters can do that on May 16. In order to pass, two thirds must say yes. I’m urging folks to vote yes.

Carrie: It’s been said “education is more than a luxury; it is a responsibility that society owes to itself.”

Jerry: Somebody also once said “if you don’t like education, try ignorance.”

Jerry is a retired farmer/rancher and native Idahoan. Carrie is a retired nonprofit administrator. They live in Idaho Falls.