Citing Budget Concerns, Boise State To Eliminate Planning Department

Feb 5, 2015

Boise State University says it's eliminating its Community and Regional Planning Department, a move that still requires approval by the state Board of Education.

The university says budget constraints made the decision necessary, and the graduate program’s small size made it a logical place to cut. The planning department has about 20 students according to an article on the university’s website.

“Although some communities in the state had expressed the need for professional planners, the program did not attract enough students to justify the investment,” writes university communications specialist Sherry Squires. “At the same time, other programs at the university are forced to turn qualified students away.”

Squires writes the planning department costs the university $5 for every $1 it brings in.

Planning department chair Jaap Vos says he understands the university’s decision.  

“We are a very small, specialized graduate program,” Vos says. “Deciding to pick a program like this probably impacts much fewer students than any other approach to budget reduction. So I kind of respect that. And then there’s the other side of me that is -- I’m very sad. I’m disappointed.”

Most of Boise State's planning students can fit in one classroom.

Students currently enrolled in the program will be allowed to finish their master's degree in two more school years. Boise State Provost Martin Schimpf says it's the only academic program the university currently plans to cut.

Though the program is small and relatively new, it's had an outsized impact on the community. It’s only been offering master’s degrees for three years. But in that time, its handful of students and faculty have taken on several real-world research projects.

They did a study on use of the Greenbelt bike and walking path for the city of Boise. Another study looked at how neighborhoods change over time. They also did a study for the Central District Health Department on where bike-share stations would be most useful.

Dave Fotsch, director of the new Boise Bike Share, says that research was incredibly important in getting his organization started.  

“As we went out and we talked to those public agencies that eventually became our partners, it gave us legitimacy in their eyes,” Fotsch says. “And I think that really gave us a foot up on getting public support and also the federal funding that is going to buy bikes for us.”

Eliminating an entire academic department is a rare move for Idaho universities. However, last summer Idaho State University and University of Idaho announced they would eliminate several degrees after a state-mandated budget inventory known as program prioritization.

At the time, Boise State’s cost cutting measures were less drastic than Idaho's other public universities. But last week, Boise State president Bob Kustra told Idaho lawmakers that his university was not getting its fair share of money compared to the U of I, and that Boise State was having trouble paying for enough faculty to teach some commonly required classes.

Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

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