Thursday, September 6, 2018

Opening Day for Boise Junior College, Precursor to Boise State University [otd 9/6]

On September 6, 1932, Boise Junior College greeted its first students, 41 men and 37 women. BJC can actually trace its roots back to 1892, when the Episcopal church started St. Margaret's School. For forty years, St. Margaret's offered a “classical education” to girls in Boise.
Opening day, BJC. Boise State University photo.

By 1910, Boise was the largest city in Idaho. Other towns like Caldwell and Nampa further skewed the state’s population toward the Boise River valley. Yet, for reasons too complex to discuss here, the area had no publicly-supported college. Repeated studies recommended some sort of institution for the area, but nothing happened.

By 1932, the demand had become a crescendo. And now, finally, that call benefited from the burgeoning nationwide “junior college movement.”

Many people saw traditional four-year schools as “overkill” for students who just wanted to improve their employment prospects. And the lower costs for a junior college were a better fit for the hard times of the Great Depression. Thus, Episcopal Bishop Middleton S. Barnwell decided to expand St. Margaret's as a co-educational two-year institution. However, he let local leaders know his trial run would probably last only two years.

The school clearly tapped into a real need: enrollment jumped to 125 for the second year. When the trial period ended, the Chamber of Commerce formed Boise Junior College Incorporated, a private non-profit corporation.

Unfortunately, BJC Inc. could barely keep its head above water financially. A $60 per semester student tuition provided the only reliable funding. Funds from a program of Corporate membership fees and an annual Jamboree (sponsored by the Boise women’s clubs) plummeted after an initial rush of enthusiasm.

Boise leaders joined others who were pushing a state law to create public junior college districts. Finally, in February 1939, the governor signed a bill that allowed regions to create local districts with the power to levy taxes [blog, Feb 7]. A Boise Junior College District measure passed by almost a 90% margin and BJC enrollment leaped to over 400 students in the fall.

However, the Episcopal diocese needed to reclaim St. Margaret’s Hall to house nurse training for their St. Luke’s Hospital. Fortunately, voters soon passed a bond election to finance a BJC relocation. The school moved to its present campus in late 1940.
Administration Building, Boise Junior College, 1941.
Boise State University photo.

Then World War II reduced student and faculty numbers by over two-thirds, which almost closed the school. Fortunately, it survived … to be swamped by a deluge of students anxious to get a college education under the justly-celebrated G.I. Bill. Within a couple years, enrollment rose to around a thousand students, with 53 full-time faculty.

By the late Fifties,  the region stretching from Mountain Home to Weiser contained roughly 30% of Idaho’s population, and locals now sought a four-year institution. Years of campaigning led to the creation of Boise College in 1965, with a brand new four-year curriculum. At first the expanded institution received no state funding. However, four years later, it became Boise State College, a part of the state system of higher education.

Demands for postgraduate studies steadily rose in Boise and, by the early 1970s, the school had implemented programs for a Masters in Business Administration and in Elementary Education. Finally, in February 1974, the institution became Boise State University. Today, BSU has the highest enrollment of any school in the state.
References: Glen Barrett, Boise State University: Searching for Excellence, 1932-1984, Boise State University (1984).
Eugene B. Chaffee, Boise College: An Idea Grows, Syms-York Company, Boise (© Eugene B. Chaffee, 1970).
This is Boise State, Boise State University Communications and Marketing (2011).

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