Times-News, Twin Falls
There has been a lot of community response to the story this week that students at Jerome High School's prom were given shot glasses.
While school officials asked, "How did this happen," a lot of students and parents pointed their finger at the Times-News instead. What's wrong with giving shot glasses to high schoolers?
There are a lot of reasons it's wrong.
The most important reason is that it sends a message that underage drinking is not only OK, but encouraged.
Superintendent Dale Layne told the Times-News, "The bottom line is this is not something we condone." Jerome High School Principal Ryan Bowman said, "We don't condone this type of thing. It is something we're really against. It's something that shouldn't have happened."
That is the appropriate response.
ONCE AGAIN, IDAHO TELEGRAPHS WRONG MESSAGE
For the better part of a decade, Idaho's elected leadership has been sending this message to the young people of this state:
Get your college education. As long as you and your families are willing to pay for it. But don't look to us. Message received.
Scattered across every community in Idaho are the students who have been priced out of a college degree. The pattern played out once again recently in Moscow. After using the higher education budget as a cash cow to balance the budget during the depths of the recession, lawmakers had restored only some of the cuts.
So the people leading the University of Idaho, Lewis-Clark State College and their sister institutions asked for higher tuition.
State Board of Education members may quibble around the edges. For instance, they lowered U of I's 5.9 percent tuition increase request to 5 percent. But they don't challenge the basic equation: If the state pays less, students must pay more.
Here's where that has taken us. In the past decade, tuition at U of I has increased as much as 12 percent in one year. Overall, the cost has more than doubled, to $6,524 a year. A generation ago, Idaho taxpayers covered 86 percent of the cost of instruction. It's now down to 53 percent.
In a state where charging residents tuition was supposed to be constitutionally prohibited, students and their families now pay 47 percent. Hey, it's still a bargain, we're told. Bargain for whom?
It's not a bargain in a state where per-capita incomes are ranked second to last. It's not a bargain in a state where 27 percent of working-age adults earn less than a living wage. It's not a bargain when Idaho spends hardly anything on state-based scholarships. Idaho's peer institutions are not Washington State University or the University of Montana or Oregon State. Competing for Idaho students are apathy, sticker shock and the dread of taking on ever-increasing student loans.
Judge the results for yourself:
- Idaho's enrollment growth is anemic - up just 24 percent in the past decade. That's ninth from the bottom in a country where enrollment expanded an average 33 percent.
- Educational attainment is heading backward. The share of today's younger workers ages 25 to 34 with a four-year degree is 24.8 percent. That's down from 28.2 percent among people ages 35 to 44.
- While most of the U.S. has ramped up its pipeline of high school graduates into colleges, Idaho has remained flat. Idaho's 49 percent was better than 11 states in 1992. Now it's ahead of only three.
What's ironic is that Idaho's higher education system works. Once students enter the threshold of higher learning, they succeed. Idaho has a good record of delivering college graduates.
The trick is getting them in the door. If the state board wants that to change, it has to alter its message.
The first step would be a rejection of any fee increase - and placing the onus for what happens next where it has belonged all along, the state Capitol.