You may have wondered what it means when you hear news reports that only 50 percent of Idaho’s high school graduates are enrolled in college or career programs one year after graduating. Why is this figure so important? More importantly, what is Idaho doing to change these numbers?
The Idaho State Board of Education has been working toward its goal of 60 percent of Idahoans between the ages of 25 and 34 possessing a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2020. Having 60 percent of our young citizens with postsecondary training or degrees is no longer just a far-off goal for the future — it is a necessity given today’s economic realities.
I am excited to announce the launch of Next Steps Idaho, an online resource and public outreach campaign designed to prepare Idaho’s students for a successful life after high school. You can access this great resource — one of several initiatives focused on our postsecondary educational attainment rates — at nextsteps.idaho.gov.
The Next Steps Idaho website helps reduce the confusion and uncertainty many students and families experience regarding going on to college. It provides free, Idaho-specific advice, with information about Idaho colleges, universities, technical training programs, and other postsecondary options. It offers downloadable tools, such as checklists for each year your student is in high school. The calendar lets you know about events like College Application Week and financial aid deadlines. It also offers an admissions tracker, where you can keep track of what you need to submit to apply for Idaho schools, and a GPA calculator to ensure you are staying on track academically. And last but not least, the site provides information not only on how to get into college but also on how to pay for it.
Next Steps Idaho was designed based on focus group research we conducted with Idaho students about their needs. It is student friendly and organized with students and their families in mind. It does not intend to tell students what to do; rather, it aims to provide students and families with all of the information (and motivation) they need — in one, easy-to-access place — to make the decisions that are right for them.
There has been a lot of collaboration behind the scenes, too. With funding from a College Access Challenge Grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the Idaho State Board of Education worked in partnership with Idaho Career Information System, the State Department of Education, the Department of Labor, Idaho Digital Learning Academy, the Idaho Division of Professional-Technical Education, and key community leaders, educators and policymakers.
I hope you’ll join me in spreading the word about Next Steps Idaho and what it has to offer. Let’s shift the conversation — together — from a discussion about how much Idaho’s go-on rate needs to improve to a success story that the nation can learn from.
Don Soltman is president of the Idaho State Board of Education.