The Idaho State Board of Education has received $4 million from the federal coronavirus relief bill to improve the delivery of online education to its post-secondary students.

During a meeting Monday, board member David Hill said the state board wants to strengthen Idaho’s capability to deliver remote education so that place-bound and economically disadvantaged students have the same opportunities as those who choose to attend postsecondary institutions.

“Earlier this summer, the only thing that was clear about the future of the next couple of years was uncertainty,” Hill said. “And in that context, the board felt that a strategic approach to online delivery of educational material was needed, rather than a happenstance approach.”

TJ Bliss, the chief academic officer for the Office of the State Board of Education, detailed two options that would provide “a low-cost, high-quality educational experience.”

They included New U, an online-only campus, which would become the ninth public postsecondary institution in the state, and Idaho Online, a program that would consolidate currently available online courses into one place.

Board member Linda Clark was one of several board members who shared concerns about the first option. She said the addition of a new institution would not be viewed favorably, given the current financial situation of Idaho’s higher education institutions, which have suffered because of the pandemic.

Board member Shawn Keough added that a new institution was not included in her presentation to Gov. Brad Little’s Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee, which awarded the board with the money.

Lewis-Clark State College President Cynthia Pemberton spoke on behalf of the Presidents’ Leadership Council, and voiced her support for a program that was similar to Idaho Online.

“We have over 200 certificate and degree programs in total available right now in Idaho,” Pemberton said of the online offerings throughout the state. “What we need is access to money, resources and expertise to let people in Idaho and beyond know that.”

Pemberton said a portal or, “storefront” of sorts, listing the available online offerings could be functional by fall. The program would be housed in one, or several, of the state’s institutions.

While the discussion was held for informational purposes, the board plans to meet in two weeks, to take action on a proposal that incorporates the feedback received during the meeting.

The money awarded to the state board will have to be used by the end of the year.

Justyna Tomtas may be contacted at jtomtas@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2294. Follow her on Twitter @jtomtas.

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