In 2010 the State Board of Education set a goal to have 60 percent of Idaho’s 25- to 34-year-olds hold some post-high school certification by 2020. With employment forecasts predicting most job growth to be in medical and computer-related fields, the goal made real sense.
Now, it’s apparent Idaho won’t be meeting the 2020 target date.
Yet, the state has made a real effort.
For a couple decades, Idahoans have been able to check online for the education needed and salary to be expected for hundreds of careers. To help more students raise their expectations, the legislature upped the funding for college and career advisers in schools. Special efforts are made to reach out to students who would be the first in their family to attend college.
In 2013 the state launched the Idaho Opportunity Scholarships. Last year 3,716 Idaho students received scholarships “up to $3,500.”
The State Board of Education now sends each senior a letter stating which Idaho colleges and universities are ready to admit them. No more worrying while the admission form is processed; kids now know in advance.
And–fanfare please–the state’s Fast Forward Program provides each secondary student $4,125 to pay for AP classes that award both high school and college credits. High-ability students now start college in the comfort of their high school or home–and have up to a year in college credits when they graduate high school.
Still, the college go-on rate for high school seniors actually fell from 54 to 45 percent between 2013 and 2017. And that is the number entering programs; the 60 percent goal is for young adults completing college or technical programs.
How could such great effort by the legislature produce such disappointing results?
Some point to an increase in the high school graduation rate. If schools manage to keep two percent more students engaged until they earn a high school diploma, that’s good. Still, if none of these students goes on to post-high school education or training, the go-on rate dips.
Others point to the ease in getting jobs today. Unemployment in Idaho has dropped by two-thirds–from nine to three percent–since 2009. Going directly from high school to having real wages in your pocket is tempting to many young adults.
We shouldn’t, however, ignore the elephant in the room–college costs more than ever and many graduates will never get their student loans paid off.
If mom or dad now owes $45,000 on the $30,000 in student loans they took out 20 years ago, kids are apt to think twice about starting their adult life in debt.
Is that possible? Yes.
Payments can be set as a percent of income. Idaho’s relatively low wages leave many paying less each month than the interest on their loans.
In 2010 the government passed 10-year and 20-year loan forgiveness programs for those in certain occupations, but chances are the current administration will cancel these before a single student qualifies.
And, although Idaho students pay the sixth lowest rate in the nation for state colleges, it’s far from the tuition-free rate once believed to be mandated by our state Constitution.
Forty years ago, the Idaho’s general fund paid 94 percent of our colleges’ budgets. Today, the state’s share is barely over 50 percent. The state didn’t cut its contribution–colleges are finding it necessary to spend nearly ten times as much for faculty, buildings, and technology.
Would I still advise young people to go to college. Yes.
But, then, I’ve never tried to start a career and a family while $50,000 in debt.