Idaho’s off to college — all over the place

A new report will help start answering questions about what happens to students who go out of state.

broberts@idahostatesman.comSeptember 23, 2013 

  • NUMBER OF THE CLASS OF 2012 AT SOME BIG-NAME SCHOOLS

    • Massachusetts Institute of Technology: 3

    • Harvard: 2

    • Princeton: 2

    • Yale: 2

    • Dartmouth College: 1

    • Notre Dame: 0

    • Stanford: 0

Fewer than half of Idaho’s 2012 high school graduates went on to post-secondary education directly after graduation.

But those who did fanned out across the country — from Spokane Community College to the University of Florida, and from Middlebury College in Vermont to the University of Southern California — to more than 450 institutions.

Who cares? Why is this important information?

Trying to figure out why so few Idaho kids don’t get college degrees is one of the biggest issues facing Idaho education. Idaho has one of the lowest rates in the nation. That gap is the focus of an initiative by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, one of the state’s most influential education advocates, as well as state educators, the Treasure Valley Education Partnership, Idaho Business for Education and districts across the state who are supposed to be preparing students for college and career readiness.

The state now has access to new data that can help people dig deeper into what’s going on with Idaho students.

What school had the most Idaho students enroll?

Boise State University. Those students tend to be regional, indicating many aren’t going far from home.

How many students graduated in 2012?

The total number of high school graduates was 16,647.

The State Board of Education shared some of its college data with the Legislature’s interim committee on K-12 education earlier this month.

How many grads went out of state?

About 30 percent of the 8,000 graduates in 2012 who went on to post-high school training are attending school out of state. They are in every state and Washington, D.C., according to the Ed Board.

Why do students leave Idaho?

We don’t know. The Ed Board gets numbers, but not reasons. One likely reason is students can’t get majors such as medicine or dentistry in Idaho schools, said Andy Mehl, Ed Board project coordinator for the State Longitudinal Data System.

“I was kind of surprised a lot of them showed up around San Francisco, because it is really expensive there to live, much less go to school. I don’t know what the draw is there.”

What is the State Longitudinal Data System?

It’s a computer tracking system that follows public school students. The system provides information on everything from location to test scores.

The Ed Board took the list of high school seniors from its data system and submitted it to the National Student Clearing House, which gets information from the colleges Idaho students attend. The report by the Ed Board put the two databases together.

The Ed Board pays about $33,000 a year for the data, which also allows Idaho school districts to access the National Clearing House.

How accurate is this information?

The National Clearinghouse — which Ed Board officials say was originally designed to track students who had college loans — gets information from about 98 percent of students enrolled in U.S. colleges. Not all participate. The College of Idaho has not provided information to the National Clearinghouse; it will start providing information this school year.

Where students are counted is also an issue. University of Phoenix has campuses nationwide. Students who attend the school in Idaho are counted as being in school in Phoenix, Ariz., Mehl said. So that alters slightly the number of out-of-state students.

Hasn’t Idaho always known where its high school students went to school?

No.

What does the data say about Idaho?

Right now, there are more questions than answers. But the information on post-secondary school attendance is shining some light on higher education for Idahoans.

Idaho hasn’t had much data to help show how the investment taxpayers have made in colleges and getting kids ready for college is paying off, said Mike Rush, Ed Board executive director. “We haven’t been able to say ‘Given this investment in higher education, how many students go to Idaho institutions? How many are transitioning to institutions out of state.’ ”

Are there worries about the number of students who leave Idaho for college?

Not necessarily. Students from a broad mix of schools can increase educational diversity, Rush said.

But that carries a big if — and that is if those students come back to Idaho. And state education officials don’t have that information.

If those students don’t return to Idaho after getting their education, then the state could be seeing a “brain drain” in action.

Idaho is working on a tracking system involving the Idaho Department of Labor that would help get better data about what happens to college students after graduation. By following Social Security numbers into the workplace, the state can see if those students get jobs in Idaho. That won’t be ready until 2016.

What information can be gleaned from the college attendance information we do have?

The rate at which students go onto college directly out of high school is 48 percent. That is slightly lower than the 49 percent that the Albertson Foundation cites in its Go On campaign to get more students into post-secondary education. Among nine Southwest Idaho school districts — Boise, Meridian, Nampa, Kuna, Caldwell, Middleton, Mountain Home, Emmett and Vallivue, along with Bishop Kelly High School, a private Catholic school — the combined rate is 54 percent for 2012.

What’s the concern about college attendance rates?

The numbers of students going on to college is important because 60 percent of Idaho jobs could require some type of post-secondary degree within five years, foundation officials say.

There is another concern: What is happening to the 52 percent who didn’t go on to college, asks the foundation. That would be 8,647 students. And no one has any detailed data on whether those kids are working, in the military, on religious missions or something else.

How about retention rates?

The report doesn’t give information on that. In 2010, Idaho ranked 46th in the percent of students who returned to college after their freshman year. That means too many of our kids who do try college are dropping out before they earn a degree, foundation officials say.

Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts

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