CWI Hosts Open House on Proposed Boise Campus, Trustee Reacts to CWI's Low Wallethub Ranking 

click to enlarge - Community members arrange blocks to visualize what a CWI campus near the Boise River -  - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • Community members arrange blocks to visualize what a CWI campus near the Boise River
Tia Chavarria has two children attending Whittier Elementary School in Boise's West End neighborhood, and if the College of Western Idaho chooses in October to purchase 10 acres along the Boise River for its Boise campus, that would make her one of the community college's new neighbors. 

That's why she made the trip to Whittier Elementary after school hours to attend a community engagement session hosted by the school, CWI officials and members of CTA Architects Engineers—the firm tasked with giving the community college a set of design options for a CWI-Boise campus. A graduate of Brown Mackie College, Chavarria told Boise Weekly she's concerned a college campus in the neighborhood could cause the kind of congestion she saw at the Brown Mackie. 

"There's a lot of overflow that can happen when a school's overcrowded," she said.

click to enlarge - Tia Chavarria places a sticker on the image of a transportation option she would like to see on a CWI Boise campus. -  - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • Tia Chavarria places a sticker on the image of a transportation option she would like to see on a CWI Boise campus.
Standing before a bank of photos of community college, university and corporate campuses, Chavarria placed a sticker next to a photo of a parking structure decked in lush vines, and another photo of a bike rack. CTA uses the stickers to gauge which designs are most popular with the public, and the photo station was one of several spread across the gymnasium. Others included an aerial photo of the proposed campus site where people could arrange blocks to simulate campus structures and whiteboards where people placed sticky notes with comments written on them.

Jason Butler of CTA worked a station where people pushed pins indicating where they live, work, attend school and play into a map of Boise. He said the idea behind his station was to help measure how a campus' neighbors get around Boise, and what impact that might have on a Boise campus.

"Connectivity is going to be paramount," he said. 

Other areas of concern for CWI and CTA include flood assessments—the 10-acre parcel eyed by the college rests on the Boise River floodplain—and environmental analyses. According to CWI Trustee Guy Hurlbutt, these assessments, as well as community input, will help CTA provide college officials with options for development.

"We want to have a bird's eye view going forward—what alternatives we have," he said. 

A second CWI open house is slated for 4:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3, at Whittier Elementary.

Earlier this year, CWI entered a purchase agreement to purchase the 10-acre parcel in the West End near the I-84 Connector, Fairview Avenue and the neck of Garden City. The purchase caused a stir when media reported the purchase price for the parcel was $8.8 million, but most recently assessed for tax purposes at $3.6 million. In July, the parcel's market value was appraised at $8.975 million.

And on the website for CBS News, CWI received low marks for the cost, classroom experience and outcomes of its education. The report came from a post on WalletHub.com, which ranked 670 community across the country for cost and financing, classroom experience, education outcomes and career outcomes, in which CWI scored 624th, 553rd, 652nd and 617, respectively. According to the WalletHub score, CWI ranked 669 out of 670.

WalletHub's data came from the Community College Survey of Student Engagement conducted by the University of Texas-Austin—a student survey measuring best educational and retention practices, and assesses student relationships with faculty, counselors and their peers—as well as data pulled from the American Association of Community Colleges.

CWI Trustee Emily Walton said she was skeptical of the WalletHub analysis, citing the website's numerous articles she termed "clickbait," as well as an article in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, in which State College of Florida officials said they were "puzzled" by WalletHub's findings, which flew in the face of the college's rank among other Florida community colleges according to the state's performance-based funding ranking system.

"Do they have cat photos? ... It sounds like BuzzFeed," she said.

Walton did say, however, that as a relatively new community college—it opened its doors in 2009—CWI doesn't yet have a solid data set from which to gather valuable information about post-graduation professional outcomes, including what kinds of jobs CWI graduates accepted or earnings data. She also said that Idaho's economy and the cost of living in the Treasure Valley are factors that may have influenced how information about CWI may have been interpreted in a community college ranking survey.

"We're so young, we don't have a lot of long-range data," she said.
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