Thursday, February 7, 2019

Governor Bottolfsen Signs Junior College District Bill into Law [otd 02/07]

Governor Bottolfsen.
University of Idaho archives.
On February 7, 1939, Governor Clarence A. Bottolfsen signed a bill that authorized the formation of local junior college districts in the state of Idaho. The new law allowed district voters to approve a local tax levy to support the school. Also, the district would receive half the state liquor store profits collected in the county where the school was located.

The law arose largely at the instigation of advocates in the Boise Valley, who had long been on the junior college bandwagon.

Small local colleges came and went in the U.S. during the course of the Nineteenth Century. Churches tailored curricula for their members, and towns founded schools as a sign that they had “arrived.” Most struggled or died after a few years of operation.

Toward the end of the century, organizers began to consider offering just the first two years. That would cut costs and offer other advantages: Some felt it would provide a transition between high school and a demanding professional curriculum at a university. Others saw it as a kind of trade school to teach the “practical arts.”

Joliet Junior College, founded in 1901, is considered the first public junior college in the United States. The movement slowly gathered momentum. California authorized the beginnings of its statewide system in 1907, and by 1920, the idea had spread all across the country. In June of that year, forty educators met in St. Louis and initiated what became the American Association of Junior Colleges (now the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges). By 1924, Ricks College, in Rexburg, had embraced the concept and proudly noted its membership in the Association.

People in the Boise Valley felt they needed, and deserved a full-fledged college: By the early Thirties, the area graduated nearly 40% more high school students than all of North Idaho – and the Panhandle had not only the University, but also Lewiston State Normal School. The Valley graduated 300 more high schoolers than East Idaho, which had access to Albion State Normal School, Ricks, and the precursor to Idaho State University.

Unable to make headway toward their own university despite those numbers, Boiseans had settled for a junior college. Boise Junior College began its first classes in September 1932 [blog, Sept 6], as a kind of expansion of the Episcopal Church's St. Margaret's School. Enrollment tripled to over 120 students in its second year.

However, the church had said from the start that other funding must be provided after two years. Thus, locals created a private non-profit corporation in June 1934. After an initial rush of enthusiasm, private donations and corporate membership fees dropped off drastically. So backers sought a more reliable source of funding.
Administration Building, Boise Junior College, 1941.
Boise State University Archives.

But the first JC district law they maneuvered through the legislature in 1937 was vetoed by Governor Barzilla Clark [blog December 22]. He felt that such local districts would prove inadequate and end up throwing the cost onto an already-strained state educational budget.

After Bottolfsen signed the district authorization in 1939, BJC enrollment shot up again, only to stall and then decline due to World War II. Eventually, of course, the school grew to be today's Boise State University. North Idaho College, formed as Coeur d'Alene Junior College in 1933, benefited from the law, and it provided the basis for the College of Southern Idaho, which opened in 1965.
References: [Brit]
Glen Barrett, Boise State University: Searching for Excellence, 1932-1984,  Boise State University (1984).
Eugene B. Chaffee, Boise College, An Idea Grows, Printing by Syms-York Company, Boise (© Eugene B. Chaffee 1970).
James R. Gentry, The College Of Southern Idaho 1945-1985, College of Southern Idaho (1987).
Jerry C. Roundy, Ricks College: A Struggle for Survival, Ricks College Press, Rexburg (1976).

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