Is Idaho’s post-high school education gap narrowing?

broberts@idahostatesman.comOctober 15, 2013 

Idaho may be getting a bump toward its goal of equipping more students with post-high school degrees.

The State Board of Education has pushed since 2010 to get 60 percent of Idaho’s 25- to 34-year-olds to have at least a post-high school certificate by 2020.

Business groups such as Idaho Business for Education — a group of 85 state business leaders working on education reform — say education after high school is a key to getting better-paying jobs in Idaho.

About 35 to 39 percent of Idahoans in that age bracket meet the goal — leaving a gap of up to 25 percent.

But new research by an Oregon-based public policy consulting group concludes that gap is actually closer to 15 percent.

“I think that is a great affirmation of the things the board has been working on since creating the 60 percent goal,” said Mike Rush, Ed Board executive director.

Research by ECONorthwest used slightly different age data available from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and examined students in 2011 who would be ages 27-33 in 2020. The conclusion: 45 percent of those students were enrolled or had completed college at the time, a 10 percent increase over where the current crop of 27- to 33-year-olds were in 2004.

“These data support that the younger age group is doing better than the ones before it,” Rush said.

ECONorthwest counted students seeking associate degrees or higher. If you add in students who get certificates, the gap closes by another estimated 4 percentage points, based on state numbers.

ECONorthwest’s study also shows plenty of capacity in Idaho’s economy for people with post-high school degrees, especially in the information, finance and insurance industries, said Kevin Cahill, a managing director for ECONorthwest who is located in the firm's Boise office.

A report on Idaho business leaders expected from Idaho Business for Education this fall reflects some of the findings in Cahill’s analysis, particularly in job needs.

Top Idaho jobs in the next five years will be in sales and marketing, business and finance management, computer science and office support, said Rod Gramer, president and CEO of Idaho Business for Education.

A Georgetown University study shows that 68 percent of Idaho jobs will require some form of post-high school education by 2020, up from 63 percent in 2018 — a figure from an earlier Georgetown study.

Changes in Idaho education policy are needed to meet Idaho’s 60 percent goal, Gramer said.

His organization specifically supports the 20 recommendations from Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education. The top recommendation for IBE is giving school districts more autonomy to run districts they way they see fit to improve student achievement, while also holding the districts accountable for how well students learn their lessons.

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