NAMPA — The first 20 students enrolled in the Idaho JOBCorps Program are scheduled to arrive in about two weeks, following the center’s recent transition from federal ownership.
The state took over the Centennial Jobs Corps center on July 1, making Idaho the first state in the nation to assume operational control of a Job Corps center, the U.S. Department of Labor previously announced.
Since then, Tina Polishchuk, with the Idaho Department of Labor, said state officials have been working to transition the property to focus more on Idaho students. Idaho legislators on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee toured the campus Tuesday afternoon.
The previous program served more than 280 students, who mostly came from out of state. All of those students have since graduated from the program or were transferred to a different one, Polishchuk said.
The Idaho JOBCorps Program will serve students ages 16 to 24 who are income-eligible, just like the previous program, and provide them with job training and workplace opportunities. Polishchuk said the state is partnering with the College of Western Idaho to provide some courses.
The new program will start with 20 students and work its way up to 150 students by the end of the year, Polishchuk said. Only 50 of those students will be permitted to live on campus, she said, compared to the 241 who were housed under the previous program.
In June, the National Federation of Federal Employees voiced concerns about the enrollment reduction, and claimed the transition would cut 77 staff positions.
“It’s unreal, and it’s extremely unfair to the students, staff and local businesses that rely on Centennial,” the federation’s president, Randy Erwin, said in a press release.
Polishchuk said the fewer residential students is meant to put the focus on educating Idaho students. Because the center is located in a highly populated area of the state, she said most students should be able to live off campus. The students who will live on campus are those without another viable option for housing.
As for staffing, Polishchuk confirmed that the state did lay off some of the previous employees who worked on the site, but said most employees either transferred or retired. She said the center now employs about 20 people — all of them state employees. One former Centennial employee applied for a job at the center and was hired, she said.
The center, which opened in 1997, uses 25 acres of a roughly 500-acre site that includes the Centennial and Ridgecrest golf courses, the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center and the Idaho Department of Correction’s community reentry facilities.
Polishchuk said the Job Corps campus has 16 buildings, but not all of them will be used this year. The fewer residential students means only one of the two dorms will be used, she said. There are also several academic buildings that may remain empty depending on the demand from students for certain subjects.
By 2021, Polishchuk said, the plan is to open three other Job Corps centers at Idaho community colleges, including the College of Southern Idaho, the College of Eastern Idaho and North Idaho College. Each of the three locations will serve 50 non-residential students.
The Idaho JOBCorps Program is funded through a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. The first year, the program received over $4.3 million, and the following two years, it will receive $6.7 million.
Polishchuk said this is significantly less funding than the previous program received. Whereas the average national Job Corps program spends about $50,000 per student, she said the Idaho program plans to spend $22,000 to $24,000 per student, but they still expect to get the same results, or better.
Officials are working with Valley Regional Transit to provide bus service for students who need transportation to campus, and Polishchuk said they also plan to provide day care, mental health counseling and a biweekly stipend for students who attend all of their classes, among other benefits.
State officials hope to ensure their students get jobs with a livable wage after graduating from the program. Polishchuk said officials are considering an incentive for employers in which Job Corps would pay the difference in their students’ salaries to get them $16 an hour during a six-week training period, after which the employer would pay the full wage.