From wheat field to innovator: how BYU-Idaho is changing the landscape of higher education
"I felt initially that it would be a big challenge to put classes online," said Palmer, the biology department head. "I had always thought online was going to be inferior to face-to-face — it just seemed like a removed process from teacher to students. That couldn't be the further from the truth. With the learning model as a guide, students and teachers are well connected. It has also opened up possibilities of different ways we can educate. I am now a fan of our online courses. It helps us reach out to more and more students."
In 2009, the equivalent of 880 students took full semester loads online. By last year that number had jumped to 2,140.
FULFILLMENT OF A VISION
It's a warm summer afternoon in Rexburg, and Kim Clark is sitting in his office. Outside, yellow bulldozers idle beside big heaps of dirt that will soon be used to build a new courtyard. Clark only has to look out the window of the conference room to see BYU-I's future moving forward.
The school is a very different kind of university today than it was 10 years ago. Enrollment has grown 60 percent, the university has gone to four years, and its entire way of teaching has changed. Faculty members expect students to take charge of their own education. The school has also found ways to radically lower costs and expand its reach, primarily through online education. Last spring, 6,500 students on campus took online courses that were taught by 222 remote faculty from around the country.
"By not paying for office space, classrooms, and benefits, it's safe to say that it costs us less than half as much to teach courses online as it does face-to-face," said Eaton, associate academic vice president for Academic Development.
The Pathway Program, which officially launched in May, is allowing the university to reach even more students.
Already the program, which is meant to serve young adults who would not otherwise have access to an education, is in place in 22 cities across the country and in two locations outside the U.S. The school plans on adding about 10 more sites each year.
All of these changes date back to a vision former LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley had for the school in 2000. It's something Clark thinks about often.
"With relatively modest resources you can do a lot," Clark says. "That is what we have learned, and that is the story of BYU-Idaho. The things that matter most typically don't cost very much — the learning model, the three-track calendar, the Pathway Program. They are brought to pass by ideas and committed people; you can't buy passion and commitment. As long as people are respected and taken care of, you get compassion and commitment and ideas. In the end, you can be very innovative and very frugal."
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