OPINION: Undergrad access improved for Idaho students

The Idaho State Board of Education has worked for years to make it easier for students to attend college after high school. The board’s Direct Admissions program is a prime example. Since its inception in 2015, Direct Admissions has enabled thousands of high school graduates to be automatically admitted to six or all eight colleges and universities in Idaho for free, rather than spending long hours and large sums of money applying to each institution.

I’m pleased to announce that Idaho’s public colleges and universities are building on this with a new agreement that will allow community college students earning an associate degree to proceed directly to higher programs at our four-year institutions if they wish so. The move will be easy as these students are already enrolled through a co-admission/co-registration agreement signed by all eight institutions.

A student enrolled in a community college can co-enroll in a four-year institution, which means that after completing their associate degree, they can immediately begin taking courses required to earn a bachelor’s degree from one of the three universities or to obtain from Lewis-Clark State College. The agreement even allows community college students to begin upper-level courses at the four-year institutions before completing their two-year degrees. This allows K-12 students to begin attending college courses before graduating from high school through Idaho’s Advanced Opportunities program.

“We wanted an arrangement that would make it easy and straightforward, with the same rules for all students no matter where they start,” said Dr. TJ Bliss, Chief Academic Officer of the State Board. “In the past, each institution had its own agreement with the other institutions, so we had numerous agreements with different requirements. The situation was not user-friendly for students.”

The new statewide agreement states, “Participating students who complete an associate degree with a GPA of 2.0 at the two-year college will be guaranteed admission to the four-year partner institution as a condition of this partnership.”

Bliss says the agreement was a decade in the making and that it is designed to improve graduation by allowing students to move through the system with ease, no matter where they live. “By creating the conditions to increase the number of students transferring from our community colleges to our four-year institutions, we are also making college more affordable because it costs less to attend a community college,” Bliss said. “General education courses at an adult education center are cheaper than the same courses at a university. Our goal with this agreement is to create pathways for more students to begin their post-secondary education at a two-year college and then transfer to the four-year institution for subject-specific classes.”

Online Idaho

The co-admission/co-registration agreement works well in partnership with another board initiative aimed at making the college more affordable and available to all Idahoans.

Online Idaho, the Board’s digital campus, continues to grow and will begin showcasing more of our institutions’ online courses and degree programs over the next year. Students enrolled at one institution can take courses at other institutions online, regardless of where they live in Idaho. And all Idahoans will be able to explore degrees, programs and pathways at all eight public institutions to help meet their training, education and workforce needs.

Our colleges and universities serve specific regions and each has a mission to fulfill. The co-admission/co-registration agreement and Online Idaho are part of the Board’s “systems” approach, which coordinates the expertise and resources of institutions to facilitate expanded access to higher education. These initiatives are designed to help students save money so they can maintain momentum, graduate, and enter the Idaho workforce with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed.

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Kurt Liebich is the President of the Idaho State Board of Education.