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President’s Letter to Friends of Boise State

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



Why Fine Arts Must Be a Top Priority for Boise State

The arts and humanities are vital and crucial to the success of our city, state and region now more than ever before. For a decade, the university has focused on boosting the science, technology, engineering and math degrees urgently needed to drive our high-tech economy into the future. Yet, we’ve never lost sight of the major advantages offered by the liberal arts or a fine arts education, nor the steps we must take to enable it — including a Fine Arts Building that will be a nationally and internationally recognized center for arts education.

Today, nearly 4,000 students take courses through Boise State’s acclaimed Department of Art. They are learning from some of Idaho’s most acclaimed artists, as well as renowned visiting artists, honing their skill and their eye through painting, sculpture, graphic design, video and much more.

Boise State aims to inspire and prepare students who want to make their career in the arts as much as those who aspire to careers in fields such as molecular biology or computer science. The study of fine art — and developing an interest in the arts — is advantageous for everyone, regardless of their chosen field. Research shows that students in a high-tech track who also focus their studies in the arts and humanities will be better at their jobs, and employers find them more desirable due to their creative abilities in solving complex problems.

Perhaps the best example of the contribution arts education makes to advances in technology comes from the education of Steve Jobs. His biographer, Walter Isaacson, tells us that it was a calligraphy class that Steve Jobs took as an undergraduate that later would produce the design, elegance and human touches of Apple products we all enjoy today. With Boise State’s STEM focus and the Center for Fine Arts, we will position our students to meet at this intersection of the arts and technology where anything is possible, as it was for Steve Jobs. Providing our students and faculty with the space they need to work together across disciplines is the key to enabling creativity and innovation within and across disciplines. Not only will the Fine Arts Building provide space for the study and practice of the fine arts, it will also be a place for everyone to come for new experiences with art.

We’ll welcome all to a World Museum where visitors can be a part of something new — a high-tech and interactive space that will employ the latest virtual reality technology developed right here on campus. In an immersive, virtual experience, imagine touring the Louvre in Paris, France; the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain — all in one day. Imagine students taking a virtual tour of Michelangelo’s Pieta as though they were in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Here, technology will truly intersect with the arts, and the experience we can provide to students of all ages will be richer for it. The more faculty and students from our art department (as well as other partners from all across campus) consider the possibilities in a space like this, the more we realize we can deliver new artistic, teaching and experiential opportunities that our community would love to have.

Just like other notable arts projects in the community, this building and what it will do for the arts at Boise State and in the region is dependent upon philanthropy and generous leaders stepping forward. The state of Idaho has dedicated $5 million toward the facility. The university is looking to the generosity and vision of our friends, alumni and supporters to bring the project to fruition. I look forward to partnering with generous leaders who share our enthusiasm for the arts and all they bring to our culture and society, and I invite you to contact Boise State to discuss how you can help us have a lasting impact on our arts community.

Thanks for all you do for Boise State and its students!

President Bob Kustra

Look to Boise State Students for Reassurance of a Bright Future

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with 16 randomly-chosen, first-year students who I asked to have lunch to discuss their first few months here at Boise State. Plain and simple, I want to hear from our students early in their experience so we can take corrective action where necessary.

I think it’s fair to say we covered considerable ground in reviewing their initial impressions of Boise State. First, we asked them why they chose Boise State and if their expectations were fulfilled in their relatively short time here. They were effusive in their positive comments about what a great experience they were having. They singled out faculty as caring, compassionate and in command of their disciplines both in and out of the classroom.

Students also sung the praises of our staff as people who come to work caring about students and willing to help when needed. Our residential staff received high marks and our Living and Learning Communities were “curve busters” in terms of the positive reactions from residents. We asked the students to comment specifically on the campus climate, on how they felt they were treated by our campus community in general. Once again, they were uniformly positive in commenting on the respect they felt from faculty, staff and fellow students.

None of the improvements that we have been able to make in recent years in student support and campus life would have been possible with the generous support for all our endeavors from you, our alumni and friends. It is heartening to be able to share these positive student experiences with you, as thanks for your continued support.

I hope his message reminds all of us that we have created something very special here at Boise State, with your help. As valued members of a civil community, our Boise State faculty, staff and students strive each day to be the definition of civility, respect, academic integrity and expertise; all of which should reassure us when we want to look toward a bright future.

Of course, I can’t help thinking about the contentious and difficult campaign season that we have all just lived through. Many years ago, Speaker Tip O’Neill declared that “all politics is local.” Perhaps that is a reminder that can work for us here on the Boise State campus as we reflect and celebrate a culture and a community worthy of modeling for our great nation.

Thanks for all you do for Boise State and its students!

President Bob Kustra

We’re Educating More Students Than Ever Before

I am excited to share with you that this fall Boise State University saw its highest enrollment growth in several years.

We are educating more than 1,773 additional students than last year. Our new student body of 23,886 is our highest enrollment ever and an 8 percent increase over last year’s total number.

Our first-time degree-seeking students (those traditional “freshmen,” most from the ranks of this year’s high school graduating classes) are also setting a Boise State record. We are welcoming 13.7 percent more Idaho students in this class and nearly 20 percent more out-of-state students.

At a time when many public universities are struggling to grow or even maintain student numbers, you may ask what makes Boise State so successful? I believe it has been our targeted and strategic efforts to meet student and community needs.

We have developed new undergraduate and graduate degree programs that are quickly in high demand. We have spent years expanding campus infrastructure and building a robust student experience that students can’t wait to share with their friends. The growing reputation of our academic programming and the excellence of our faculty are reaching families across Idaho and the country, and students are finding an academic and research home here on our campus.

Success like this comes from multiple concurrent efforts. We launched the “True Blue Promise” scholarship program that offers Idaho students who show both need and merit up to $8,000 over four years, as well as an overall scholarship campaign that recently surpassed $40 million raised by Boise State donors. We have built upon Idaho’s new “direct enrollment” program, which automatically accepted some 10,000 qualified high school graduates into Boise State and all other state colleges and universities, as well as the state’s enhanced “application week” efforts to help more Idaho students take those first often intimidating steps toward applying for college.

Our incoming students continue to be better prepared for the rigors of university life, but it is important for us to provide ongoing support so they can reach their goals on-time and on-budget. Our first-year student retention rate has grown to 78 percent — well above the national average and higher than the average for our public four-year university peers.

While we celebrate this affirmation of our efforts, we know we have work to do. We must continually innovate in the classroom and beyond. The needs of tomorrow’s students must always keep us engaged and creative. We must continue to grow research opportunities and enhance academic excellence. We must create valuable chances for students from across Idaho and beyond to benefit intellectually and financially from a college education.

As always, we will need your help to continue our trajectory, so please remain engaged as leaders and alumni and friends. Our success must always be a spur to new efforts and not an excuse to rest on our laurels.

Thank you and Go Broncos!