There was no press release, no grand announcement. There was just an idea conceived during the Ricks College era.
According to Jim Gee, vice president of Student Life, the idea became an experiment with students in a pilot program.
Then came the announced transition to become a four-year school and the direction from President Gordon B. Hinckley that “BYU–Idaho will operate on an expanded year-round basis, incorporating innovative calendaring and scheduling … which will enable the four-year institution to serve more students.”
The experiment was the answer to prophetic direction. Moving from inception to reality, the Three Track System is a creative academic calendar that opens the door to more students. The system revolves around three semesters—summer, fall, and winter. Two of the three semesters are combined to make a track. The three tracks are: summer/fall, fall/winter, and winter/summer. Qualified students are admitted to one of the three tracks and directed to stay on that same track through graduation from BYU–Idaho.
Questions naturally follow: Does it work? Are more students being served? The answer is an emphatic yes. By utilizing the Three Track System, students facilitate the opportunity for over 3,000 more people to attend BYU–Idaho each year, according to Rob Garrett, assistant director of Admissions and Scholarships. That number also represents a dramatic increase in the percentage of applicants being accepted for admission to BYU–Idaho. “Previously,” says Garrett, “70 to 80 percent of qualified applicants, depending on the year, were being accepted. Now 97 percent of applicants are accepted and given a three-track option. Only 3 percent are denied.”
“We are serving 25 percent more students with the Three Track System than we were previously when everyone wanted to attend fall/winter,” says Jim Gee, vice president of Student Life.
The increase has happened quickly and has stretched the university physically and academically. Every apparent challenge has been addressed with prayer, met with faith, and overcome with a pioneer-like fortitude.
The key to this success is the attendance of significantly more students who devote their summers—a time traditionally set aside for work and vacation—to their pursuit of education. “This wouldn’t work if we didn’t have students willing to attend during the summer,” said Gee. “Just as importantly, we have faculty who are so service oriented that they are willing to deal with some discomfort, not only giving up much of their [own] summers, but also rethinking their programs in order to better accommodate the students year-round.”
The Three Track System has become more than a way to admit additional students to BYU–Idaho. It has fueled an impressive internship program that gives thousands of students real life experiences each year. Of the 49 baccalaureate programs offered at BYU–Idaho, most require an internship to graduate. All majors strongly encourage it. This last academic year, students have interned in 43 states and 13 countries. When first introduced in the academic year of 2001-2002, the program placed 965 interns. The three-year total through the summer of 2004 shows approximately 5,000 interns having found positions.
In the current academic year, nearly 3,000 students are involved; approximately 70 percent of them will find placements in paid internship positions. “Of that group,” says Guy Hollingsworth, Internship director at BYU–Idaho, “over 50 percent will be offered jobs.”
The success of BYU–Idaho’s internship program is directly related to the Three Track System. Traditionally, businesses are flooded with applications for internships from students who are available only during the summer. At the same time, the U.S. State Department statistics show that during the summer one internship is granted for every eight to ten applications. “During the winter and fall semesters,” says Hollingsworth, “one internship is granted for every two or three applied for. With the Three Track System, tremendous opportunities are opening up that might not otherwise be available.”
The concept struck a chord with industry giant Procter & Gamble. “We told them that we could provide interns for them year round,” says Gee, “and they liked the idea so much that we signed a working agreement with them.”
That enviable relationship is just one of 1,500 master agreements signed with major companies, many of which are placing BYU–Idaho interns in positions at their corporate offices. With 3,000 interns and 1,500 master agreements, BYU–Idaho has quickly become one of the largest academic internship producing universities in the United States. Says Hollingsworth, “Those numbers are staggering, even to a large university.”
As in the Three Track System, students are key to the success of internships. “Our students are consistently rated above average by the businesses they intern with,” according to Hollingsworth. “They’re looking for skills, yes. But just as importantly they are looking for character, integrity, and honest, hard-working people. Businesses want somebody they can count on, and that’s what we have.”
So, an idea conceived years ago has found its place because of the unexpected announcement that transformed Ricks College into a four-year university, Brigham Young University–Idaho. Although, according to Gee, through all that time and before, the goal here has always been the same … “[to allow] more students to have the opportunity to come to a Church school. That’s the reason we do it. That’s what makes it worth the sacrifice.” SM
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