Voices of Idaho: Why “Going on” Matters to Idaho
In 2010, the Idaho State Board of Education set a goal that 60 percent of Idaho residents age 25 to 34 will have a degree or certificate. Why do we have that goal, and why is higher education important in Idaho?
The viability of our state relies on the employability of Idahoans. A study conducted in 2013 by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce concluded that by the year 2020, 68 percent of the jobs in Idaho’s economy will require a postsecondary degree or certificate. We must have a well-educated citizenry if we want good jobs for Idaho citizens.
Postsecondary education increases opportunities for individuals on many levels, including financial success, community involvement and personal satisfaction. Whether participating in academic or career-technical programs, higher education makes individuals more employable.
This is supported by recent job statistics. Of the 11.6 million jobs added since the Great Recession, 11.5 million — or 99 percent — went to workers with some form of postsecondary education. In 2014, degree and certificate holders age 25 to 34 had median earnings 66 percent higher than those with only a high school diploma, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Despite the well-documented benefits, we are not yet where we need to be. By the end of 2015, 42 percent of our residents age 25 to 34 had a postsecondary degree or certificate, and only about 50 percent of Idaho students go on to college within one year of graduating from high school. Our 60 percent goal is formidable.
The State Board, in working with the Legislature and Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, has taken several steps to address college and career support for students, which will ultimately lead to more Idahoans attaining a postsecondary education. From eighth grade through high school, all public school students are receiving college and career advising. The state appropriated $5 million in FY2017 and $7 million in FY2018 to support this important work.
We have also launched http://www.nextsteps.idaho.gov/ to serve as a one-stop shop for going to college in Idaho. This user-friendly website has resources geared toward students, families and educators to help students pursue a higher education degree or certificate.
The State Board has also streamlined the acceptance process for all public high school seniors through the Direct Admissions initiative. This fall, every public high school senior in Idaho will be accepted to at least six public colleges in Idaho, and some will be accepted to all eight public colleges and universities in our state. Acceptance is based on high school grades and SAT or ACT scores.
We are also mindful of higher education costs. The State Board is awarding a total of $10 million per year to students through the Idaho Opportunity Scholarship. This scholarship is intended to fill the gap (up to $3,500 per year for four years) between cost and what a student can afford. It is worth noting that postsecondary education costs in Idaho are generally less than in surrounding states.
Higher education is a critical part of Idaho’s future. It is an investment by our state and our citizens that will yield great returns to both. Together, we must continue to insist on higher levels of post-secondary completion. We will all reap the benefits of the opportunities it creates.
• Emma Atchley is a 1968 graduate of the University of Idaho and has sat on the State Board of Education since 2009. She served as president of the board in 2014-15 and 2016-17.