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President’s Letter to Friends of Boise State

Higher Ed in Rural Idaho – A Boise State Priority

There was a time when living in a rural area meant you’d have to leave home to pursue a college education. Today, online access opens doors to thousands of Idahoans who live and work in Idaho’s treasured rural areas. How many times have we heard tales of young people leaving their rural communities to pursue education and never to return?

Thanks to Boise State’s growing online educational opportunities, we can make a very good case for strengthening and bolstering life in rural Idaho where students—young and old—can stay in place and still receive a high-quality college education.

Online options are becoming a large part of our current and future offerings to Idaho students at both graduate and undergraduate levels and, for some, these options are a lifeline to a much brighter future not only for themselves, but also for their communities.

For example, what do you do if your current job suddenly requires a college degree? This happened for thousands of nurses across the region when the Institute of Medicine set a goal to increase the number of nurses with bachelor’s degrees to 80 percent by 2020. Demands of work and family left many facing impossible scheduling challenges, and those working in remote areas couldn’t travel the distance. Boise State took action, adding faculty and staff to support an increased enrollment of online students. By May of 2017, more than 1,000 registered nurses from all over the country will have completed their bachelor’s degree through Boise State’s RN-BS online program.

Some of the university’s online programs have been around for more than a decade, but recent initiatives place emphasis on developing more online programs. More than 29 degrees and certificates are fully online, and we’re working to add a dozen more over the next several years.

Programs extend access to Boise State degrees to all corners of Idaho, the US and beyond. This year we have online students enrolled from every US State (plus Washington DC and some US territories) as well as 44 other countries.

Serving rural areas can be especially challenging for universities because there is usually not enough demand to justify a wide selection of offerings or year-round programs. But online delivery allows us to aggregate students from all over Idaho, across the US and even the globe. So enrolling online students from Texas and Canada can actually help us serve parts of Idaho more cost-effectively. For example, our highly-ranked online Education Technology program is largely filled by out-of-state and international students but we offer scholarships for any Idahoan who pursues the master’s degree. Better, technology-enabled education in classrooms in Idaho is a direct outcome of this online program.

Another important community impact is related to the services provided by social workers. Higher cost of services associated with psychologists or psychiatrists means that clinical social workers may provide the majority of behavioral health services in the United States, especially in rural areas. Graduates of this program will be the key to connecting communities in need to these healthcare services and providers who are ready to help them.

Boise State’s online Master of Social Work program recently was ranked No. 18 in the nation for its affordability and quality education. Two recent additions to our online portfolio include a Bachelor of Arts in Multidisciplinary Studies and a Bachelor of Applied Science, both providing online options for adults who have some college credit, but never finished and now seek degree completion. A Master of Accountancy and Bachelor of Business Administration in Management will be added to our online degrees this fall.

There are 3,333 Boise State students enrolled exclusively online this academic year, many of whom may never come to campus. In general, these individuals are nontraditional-aged, working adults from Idaho and other parts of the US who are enrolled part-time. In getting to know our virtual campus community, our students tell us that they choose our online programs for conveniences related to location and schedule and because our programs are respected, accredited, and affordable.

Campus-based students may also elect to enroll in 426 course titles that are available online. This academic year 8,725 students are mixing one or more fully online courses into their schedules. These students tend to be more traditional-aged, Idaho residents and full-time. They tell us they appreciate the flexibility that adding 1-2 online courses per semester provides to their overall schedule, allowing them to better accommodate work and family commitments.

With traditional and non-traditional students availing themselves of our growing online offerings, Boise State has significantly improved our ability to meet students’ educational needs in our region and across the State. In 2012, the State Board of Education launched a goal to have 60 percent of Idahoans ages 25 to 34 earn a post-secondary degree or certificate by the year 2020. The Complete College Idaho initiative is significantly enabled by Boise State’s online offerings.

We must continue to make online access a priority for the future of our state and its citizens. From Boundary County to Bear Lake, and from Washington to Caribou, we are creating learning communities that connect place-bound students across the State to a university education at Boise State.

As always, thank you for all that you do for Boise State and its students.

President Bob Kustra

Change Fast. A Boise State Story.

One of the most interesting aspects of my job is to create, manage and respond to change. And with so many new innovations and technologies coming at us all the time, we’re often challenged just to keep up.

For example, we’re always learning about amazing advances in medicine. My son-in-law works in the medical field and about five years ago, he was involved with a drug called Optivo, which was initially developed as a treatment for melanoma. Soon after it hit the market (after what must have been speedy trials) the drug was also found to be successful in treating several more forms of cancer.

Some innovations are literally life-saving. Others are more about lifestyle, impacting the way we live and work. Things like face recognition—a technology with many possible applications, is already being used at some grocery checkout lines. We’ll probably see it soon where we do our shopping. Another technology that measures the body heat of people inside grocery stores is helping to streamline the check out process.

The way people experience art is also quickly changing. When we open the doors to Boise State’s Center of Fine Arts and the World Museum, visitors of all ages will have the opportunity to interact with art, and see art from around the world in a completely new way. Virtual galleries and interactive tours are using increasingly innovative technology. Three years ago, the latest technology involved simulated floor-to-ceiling tours and touch screen navigation. Today, there’s even more interactivity enabled by gesture recognition—a technology that interprets human gestures via mathematical algorithms. Boise State is pursuing and developing our own cutting-edge technology that provides valuable new ways of learning.

Our business community is also adapting to innovation and technology, and tech companies are both driving and investing in change. Throughout our local and regional economy, businesses are looking to Boise State to lead research for new discoveries and to prepare the workforce of the future.

As the rate of change accelerates and continues to impact the way we live and work, Boise State must also change the ways in which we deliver higher education. Changes within our School of Public Service are an excellent example.

We’ve re-designed environmental, global and urban studies and community development to be cross-disciplinary programs to better prepare students for careers in pubic, private or non-profit sectors. We’ve aligned our centers and institutes with partners and programs, and created the Idaho Policy Institute to conduct impactful research programs across the state. We’ve become a valuable resource to local governments, state agencies and departments, and at the same time, created incredible hands-on experiences for students.

A new program developed in Boise State’s College of Innovation and Design creates opportunities for individuals who are already part of a workforce, but who can still benefit from continuing their education. A customized learning experience allows Boise State to mobilize parts of our university and deliver learning where it’s needed. A new program for Albertsons employees—Albertsons University—will be the first of its kind to be offered through Boise State.

To have a meaningful impact in the world, institutions that guide and direct our lives must keep pace with rapid change. Boise State University is always innovating and changing in order to serve our community and within it, the many adult learners and the citizens of our state.

As always, thank you for all that you do for Boise State and its students.

President Bob Kustra


Partnerships with NASA Create Stellar Opportunities for Students

Every year, more and more students at Boise State have the opportunity to learn from someone who has literally been out of this world — NASA Commander Steve Swanson. Swanson is a Professor of the Practice at Boise State, teaching students to think like NASA scientists, no matter their chosen field.

Steve has amassed more than 195 days in space, two shuttle flights on the Russian Soyuz rocket, and five spacewalks. While he was miles from earth, he spoke to Boise State students from space, and during a live downlink, he demonstrated what it’s like to live and work in microgravity.

With a Ph.D. in Computer Science Engineering, Steve teaches robotics and engineering at Boise State to students interested in professions at NASA and within the aerospace industry. But he’s also working with students pursuing various other disciplines like education, physics, electrical and civic engineering, math and communications — through NASA’s Microgravity University, delivered through our College of Innovation and Design.

It’s the ninth consecutive year we’ve been accepted into this prestigious and competitive NASA program! Together, a team of “Space Broncos” directed by Swanson will build and test a tool or device that addresses one of several authentic, current space exploration challenges. The team also delivers educational and public outreach with K-12 students to inspire STEM learning in future generations.

Boise State’s connections to NASA were first brought to campus by Idaho’s famous Teacher in Space-astronaut Barbara Morgan, who visited the International Space Station in 2007 and helped develop Boise State’s science, technology, engineering and math programs as a Distinguished Educator in Residence for many years before retiring in 2016. Just this week, Morgan became the first to receive the Idaho Medal of Achievement before a joint session of the Idaho Legislature, an honor that recognizes individual Idahoans for their “exceptional, meritorious, and inspirational” service to the people of Idaho.

While undergraduate and graduate students continue to participate in collaborative research projects and scholarly programs, Swanson’s research drives better teaching of computational thinking through science and technology-driven, project-based learning.

Boise State graduates are working in the field for NASA and others, including Lockheed Martin in Houston, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, and Boeing in Seattle. They are software designers, design engineers, project managers, and materials protection and performance engineers working on exciting projects like the recovery of astronauts from space and human exploration of Mars.

With all of the opportunities the university offers, there’s a growing number of alumni who are of the mindset that at Boise State, the sky is not the limit. It’s merely a beautiful place to start.

As always, thank you for all that you do for Boise State and its students.

President Bob Kustra

Adapt academic and professional education to careers of tomorrow

This letter from the president also appeared in the Idaho Statesman this week.

Gov. Butch Otter’s new task force on higher education is another step forward toward supporting, funding and maintaining a sustainable system that ensures future generations have the education and skills to distinguish Idaho’s economy across the new American West. His choice of co-chairs Linda Clark and Bob Lokken demonstrates his interest in results, given Linda and Bob’s work on the successful K-12 task force.

Across the state, students have more opportunities in higher education than ever before. There are now three nationally classified doctoral research public universities, a strong four-year college, three community colleges and a technical college, each with missions and roles that meet state needs, but also serve the specific needs of their communities.

Together, we have been striving since 2010 toward an ambitious goal of ensuring that 60 percent of Idahoans between the ages of 25 and 35 have a certificate or degree by 2020. As Idaho public higher education works toward the 2020 goal, it has done so by keeping costs as low as possible for our students and their families — among the 50 states, we rank seventh in lowest in-state tuition.

Yet, Idaho higher education is still challenged to respond to our dynamic and demanding marketplace. Employers tell us regularly it’s not enough to meet today’s workforce needs, but we must also innovate and adapt our academic and professional education to the jobs and careers of tomorrow. At the most basic level, just talk to human resources leaders at any large company in the state in any industry and they will tell you they are facing a coming crisis of retirements from aging baby boomers. A great many of these jobs will require college degrees — even if those poised to leave them after 30 years were able to get their foot in the door with a high school diploma and hard work. Idaho higher education remains the hope and future for our young people and their life and career success.

The Task Force will review how far Idaho public higher education has come in recent years and how we chart a path for the future success of Idaho citizens. In doing so, the task force will have the opportunity to review the effectiveness of academic programming and research, how our universities and colleges are serving the state’s economy and communities, whether our faculty and staff compensation is competitive with sister states, and the extent to which our universities and colleges are working together to achieve the state’s common goals.

The solution isn’t simply more money, of course, but studies have shown that investments in higher education pay off — in increased tax revenue and economic activity for states, in lower unemployment and higher lifetime earnings for families. For the state’s investment in higher education to meet these goals for our students, funding must be as focused and cost-effective as possible. To achieve this, the task force can pick up on recent work of the State Board of Education in identifying the metrics that will determine how the state’s higher education budget is allocated among our universities and colleges on an outcome or accountability basis.

Thanks to the governor’s leadership, the support of our State Board members and the willingness of the Idaho Legislature to act on the recommendations of task forces such as the K-12 experience, I believe this task force has the potential to lead Idaho into a new era of higher education — one that increases opportunities for Idaho students around the state and that connects seamlessly to both public K-12 education, where our students are coming from, and to the industries and employers where they are headed.

President Bob Kustra

What the Sea of Blue Means for the Future — 99th Commencement Ceremony Dec. 17

This winter marks our 99th commencement ceremony, but this year we’ll look different. It’s the first time all of our undergraduates will walk in Boise State blue regalia — a new tradition that is designed to culminate this achievement and launch a lifelong connection to the university that has been their home for the past four or more years.

Another way we’ll look different is by sheer number—and it’s a big one! We hold commencement exercises twice each year at Boise State, and this is the first time in our history that we have more than 1,000 students participating in this winter ceremony.

In total, we’re conferring nearly 2,000 this winter — a sign that we once again could set a record in graduates this school year. More than 4,000 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree recipients will leave Boise State this year equipped with the skills, hands-on experiences and knowledge to lead and have an impact in Idaho and beyond.

We graduate more students than any other university in Idaho and confer 46 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded by Idaho public universities. We’ve grown into Idaho’s largest graduate school, and have been officially designated a doctoral research university for the suite of doctoral programs we have created to meet the needs stated by our students and civic and industry partners.

What all of this amounts to is that Boise State has become the major supplier of “brain gain” for Idaho. Five years after graduation, more than 80 percent of students who came to us from Idaho high schools remain in Idaho to live, work and raise their families — as do nearly 45 percent of our out-of-state students.

This Saturday, I’ll also have the honor of presenting the Silver Medallion, Boise State’s highest recognition of service to the university, to a great friend and true champion of Boise State University: Rod Lewis. Rod is one of Idaho’s longest-serving Idaho State Board of Education leaders. His leadership and advocacy as a member of Boise State’s Board of Trustees has been instrumental in a period of significant growth and transformation.

When I look out over the sea of blue on the floor of our arena, I’ll be looking at a graduating class that includes 60 percent of students who call Idaho home and 40 percent who’ve come from places far and wide beyond Idaho, including graduates hailing from 24 different countries, 47 states, the District of Columbia and two military locations. I’ll be looking at a wonderfully rich and diverse class of students and their friends and families who love them. I’ll be looking at Idaho’s up and coming, or already arriving. I’ll be looking at the future, and a thousand more Broncos for Life.


As always, thanks for all that you do for Boise State and its students!

President Bob Kustra