Dr. Marlene Tromp talks enrollment, Bronco football and what Boise State says about contraception
The separation between Boise State University and the University of Idaho is a lot more than just geography this semester.
While the U of I is telling its employees what they should or shouldn’t talk about when it comes to contraception, including condom use, Boise State’s president says while emergency contraception, like Plan B, can’t be dispensed, nothing has changed regarding birth control.
“University Health Services still provides birth control, including prescription options and condoms, but by law, they can't dispense emergency contraceptives,” said Dr. Marlene Tromp.
Boise State’s president since 2019, Tromp visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to also talk about a concerted effort to attract more in-person, in-state freshmen, new financial opportunities for students, and her level of involvement with the high-profile football team.
“I'm engaged and involved as I would be with any vice president. But I really trust Jeremiah's knowledge and expertise in that decision-making process.”
Read the full transcript below:
GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. We always look forward to spending some time with Dr. Marlene Tromp on this broadcast. So, let's welcome back the president of Boise State University. Dr. Tromp, good morning.
DR. MARLENE TROMP: Good morning.
PRENTICE: I've got a long list of questions I have this morning, so I will do my best. And the first one actually comes from, well, the front page. Let's talk about a bit of news. A recent letter from the University of Idaho to its employees is triggering a lot of conversation. And while we are reminded of the change that the legislature has made regarding reproductive rights, we're interested in the conversation regarding contraceptives and specifically condoms. The U of I said its staff could only offer condoms for prevention of STDs, not birth control. So, my first question is: can I assume that health services at Boise State can and will continue to make condoms available?
TROMP: Yes, that's correct, George. University Health Services still provides birth control, including prescription options and condoms, but by law, they can't dispense emergency contraceptives.
PRENTICE: So, there is no change to that. And then again, I just want to confirm, no restrictions in conversations with students in regard to what condoms would be used for?
TROMP: That's correct.
PRENTICE: Okay. This time of year, we are curious about numbers and trends when it comes to enrollment, even anecdotally. Is there anything you can share with us about fall enrollment at Boise State?
TROMP: Actually, I'm really excited about this. So, you may recall that while we have while about 70% of our student population is Idaho students, last year for the first time, our out-of-state population slightly exceeded our in-state students in our full-time first-time freshmen, which is what we call brand new students to university. And that was partly because we saw a steep decline in rural college attendance across the country and in Idaho, about a 50% decline. And so that impacted our enrollment. Students we thought were going to come ended up not coming to school, whereas on the West Coast, when schools weren't opening or weren't opening fully and students were so hungry to have access to face-to-face education, we saw an unexpected rise in our out-of-state student enrollment. But this fall we made a concerted effort over the course of last year to really grow our Idaho student population and to really focus on serving Idahoans. And we grew 20% in full-time first-time freshmen from Idaho this year.
PRENTICE: I'm guessing it's more than one or even two things that trigger that. But can you give me an idea of what worked to attract them?
TROMP: Well, we really focused on adding new staff to engage very specifically with rural high schools, rural students, and to really help students get a sense of why a college education could be a game changer for them. And as a person from a rural community myself, what I often think about is a lot of times folks are afraid that you're going to go away and never come back home, that there's a kind of brain drain. But we've focused really heavily since I arrived at Boise State and ensuring that we give students the support to return home and work in their home communities, ways of imagining that they might be able to do that. And we just really upped the ante on efforts to reach out, to educate and serve folks all over the state, and that really bore fruit.
PRENTICE: Well, let's talk a little bit more about that; I think a natural transition is to talk about access. Let me ask it this way: are there efforts to increase, or improve access for what we have come to know as the historically disadvantaged?
TROMP: We think about that those that category very broadly. We think about underrepresented students, including first generation students, including rural students, including students who have socioeconomic status. That makes it difficult for them to go to college. We think of students in populations that tend to not have access, like our Latinx students or are indigenous students not attending college. And so, we've really worked we've actually built a plan called the Strategic Enrollment and Retention Plan that's designed to support to bring those students into the university and to support them when they arrive. So, we're building all new programs that help our rural students, help our first generation students, help our students from across those underrepresented groups to find a place here, feel at home, feel connected, but also to help those students find access to the resources, whether that's through our scholarship programs, ah, philanthropic donors through state support for public higher education. And we've really tried to help those students get access, but we're also providing additional advising support, additional career counseling support. And in those ways, we're helping students to be to feel more confidence coming to school and to feel supported enough to stay and be successful. And then the state's investment really gets to see that ROI of having not only an individual who's able to make a better life for him or herself, but where you get communities that. That thrive because they have more people who can contribute.
PRENTICE: Just about everything is pointing us toward an economy that's not going to get any better any time soon. So, can I just key in on the financial piece of that? Are you saying that there are new opportunities or new sources of financial sources for the populations that you just spoke of?
TROMP: One of the things… one of the ways when I talked about that increase in Idaho students…part of what we did is we diverted a number of our financial aid resources to make sure we were really doubling down on serving Idaho students. So absolutely all of those underserved populations are getting access to that along with all the other Idahoans in the state. But that's making a difference for those students, and that's part of what helped us increase the number of students who arrived on campus. But the challenges are real for people right now. We're seeing inflationary numbers that have put pressure on people. And it's worth taking a little time to explain, George, what what we see nationally and what we see in the State of Idaho. So nationally, states across the country have reduced their investment in higher education by about 30%. And that's not because people think education isn't valuable or important, it's because there's so many more demands on states. And so that reduction in investment means those costs get borne by the students and their supporters, whether that's family or friends who are helping them go to school. What we know that we need to do is to help people bear that burden. But I think sometimes there's a lot of misunderstanding about that, too. For example, while that same disinvestment is happened in public higher education in our state, just like in other states, it's still so cost effective to go to school in the state of Idaho to get higher education in the state of Idaho and at Boise State, 45% of our students graduate with zero student loan debt zero and the 55 that do have student loan debt when they graduate. So, these are people who've gone through all four years that 55% have spent less, invested less in their student loan debt. Then the third, a third the price of a new pickup truck. There are real challenges, but we're really working to make sure students get access to the resources and support and that they understand what a big impact that investment will make.
PRENTICE: The Fed says unemployment will rise. It's that simple: unemployment will rise. But study after study… and we have learned that the data confirms that poorly educated workers are usually the most vulnerable. It's folks without certification, without degrees that are the most vulnerable.
TROMP: What we see is the resilience of people who have college degrees so they're able to go on and find other jobs. They're able to, if their business or their industry closes up shop, those who have the degrees are able to find other jobs, whereas people who don't have those certifications or degrees, that credential, that post-secondary credential often struggle. And so, the investment that you make in that education, not only do you earn well more over the course of your life and and what most studies suggest is that's $1,000,000 more over the course of your life. But you have more economic resilience, you have better physical and mental health outcomes, better financial outcomes. And so sometimes people turn to college when the economy is rough because they don't have that job. But what we know is it's actually going to make you more resilient in a challenging economy.
PRENTICE: One last topic, and that is… when I turn to the sports page, I see… well, the Broncos are actually on the front page lately. A lot of change there. We have a new interim offensive coordinator - someone very familiar to many of us. But we also saw a starting quarterback express his desire to play elsewhere. So, a lot of transition. And my question to you is mostly out of curiosity: how involved do you get in matters of Boise State football?
TROMP: All of our vice presidents, including our report to me and I'm very engaged with them. I meet with them really regularly. We talk a lot, but I hire vice presidents that I trust and whose expertise I respect. And I believe in Jeremiah Dickey's knowledge and experience. And he and Andy work really closely together, as J.D. does with all of his head coaches. But as you know, George, I love our football program and our student athletes. I attend our soccer matches, our volleyball games, our softball games. And of course, I'm there at football for every game. So, I'm engaged and involved as I would be with any vice president. But I really trust Jeremiah's knowledge and expertise in that decision making process.
PRENTICE: So here's the easiest question I'll ask you…ever. Your level of enthusiasm for the football program is…
TROMP: Are you asking me to rank it on a scale of 1 to 10?
PRENTICE: Nope. You can rank it any way you choose.
TROMP: Really what it comes down to is I care so much about our students. And what sometimes people forget is those are students on the field, those young men and women in the field of competition, whether you're at a tennis match or golf or soccer, volleyball, beach volleyball. No matter what program those students are competing in, they are full time students. They're going to school and studying, just like all of our other students on campus. And I just really care about our students, and I want to be where they are, whether that's me visiting classrooms or going to see our amazing Talking Broncos perform or visiting labs where our students are doing experiments and working alongside our research faculty, or whether it's on that football field, because it's not just our student athletes on the field, it's our students in the stadium, too. I have tremendous enthusiasm and care for all of our students, whether they're in a classroom or on the field of competition.
PRENTICE: Indeed, they are student-athletes in that order. Dr. Marlene Tromp, enjoy the fall. Congratulations on your numbers. There's always something new at Boise State, and when we can get time with you, it is much appreciated. Thanks so much for giving us some time this morning.
TROMP: Thank you, George.
Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren
Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio