Recently Visited: The College of Idaho

Who knew that there is a fine, historic liberal arts college in the state of Idaho? I didn’t until a few years back when my research into affordable private colleges kept turning up the College of Idaho as a strong example of this elusive beast. Recently I had a chance to visit in person courtesy of the school along with some 30 fellow independent and high school counselors.

C of I is located in the town of Caldwell in southeastern Idaho, 25 miles west of Boise. It proved to be a lovely campus in a breathtaking region with 1100 students attending. As one would expect, the college features the curricular breadth seen at most liberal arts schools: numerous majors in the arts, sciences, humanities and social sciences, but with the addition of applied programs in business, education, environmental studies, and kinesiology. Additionally, C of I offers three post-graduate programs: two masters level degrees in education plus a brand new physician assistant program.

A recent innovation that intrigued me and that the college is obviously proud of is its PEAK curriculum, a new take on the general studies-academic major nexus that requires C of I students to complete one major and no fewer than three minors. The rationale is that with just 28% of college grads nationwide actually doing work that directly relates to their degree program, why not give students multiple credentials and skill sets with which to confront the work world – not a bad thought!

The following are a few of the interesting factoids that were shared with us along with some of my favorite experiences and observations:

A large proportion of students combine athletics with their studies, and the school fields some strong teams with winning records under the NAIA umbrella. Among the teams with scholarship money for both female and male participants is skiing, perhaps no surprise given that some nice slopes are in close proximity to the campus. The nearness of the slopes and the fact that they are lighted at night means that skiing is something that numerous students can take advantage of for recreation, whether teams members or not.

Our one meal in the dining commons, lunch, was some of the best cafeteria food that I’ve sampled anywhere in quality, variety, and flavor. I would definitely experience the “Freshman Fifteen” if I were attending this school.

We were invited to sit in on a class and we were dispersed across a wide range of courses on a Friday afternoon following lunch. The bioethics class that I visited was excellent. They were discussing an excerpt from the recently published Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, a great book that I happen to have read. I must add how pleased I was that so many classes were actually meeting on a Friday, given the seeming capitulation of so many institutions to student expectations of long weekends.

We were also treated to a play, a series of improvised vignettes from a student comedy troupe, and a truly exquisite choral performance, which convinced me that students who enjoy the arts would be happy here, and not just the athletes.

Laundry facilities in the residence halls were free!! I saw the machines without the slots for quarters with my own eyes; how many schools can boast that?

Parents and alums especially might appreciate the proximity of Caldwell to Idaho wine country, which yields some respectable vintages and charming vistas. The first night of our visit involved stops at two wineries and a gourmet meal at the second.

Finally, and perhaps best of all is that this nice school with so much going for it is imminently affordable compared with many of the same type. The total cost of attendance for 2014-15 was $37,906, and nearly 18% of students received merit aid averaging $13,304. Also the school meets 94% of the need of students qualifying for need-based aid.

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