Idaho’s ‘60 percent goal’ for education is missing mark

‘Go On’ Challenge spokesman Kristin Armstrong announces the second phase of the J.A. And Kathryn Albertson Foundation Issues program in 2010 at Mountain View High School.
‘Go On’ Challenge spokesman Kristin Armstrong announces the second phase of the J.A. And Kathryn Albertson Foundation Issues program in 2010 at Mountain View High School. Idaho Statesman file

Just about everybody loves Idaho’s 60 percent goal — until achieving it requires sacrifice.

Since 2010, the State Board of Education has declared that 60 percent of Idaho’s youngest workers — ages 25-34 — should have some kind of post-secondary training by the year 2020. It could include a certificate, a two-year degree or a four-year degree.

It only makes sense. More than two-thirds of Idaho’s jobs will require that kind of additional schooling.

Even the Idaho Legislature got on board this year. A resolution affirming the 60 percent goal passed unanimously in the Senate and cleared the House 63-7.

Don’t be fooled. It’s all a charade.

As Idaho Education News’ Kevin Richert reported, Idaho is nowhere near achieving this benchmark

As of 2014, the last year on record, the Lumina Foundation found 37.7 percent of all Idaho adults attained some level of learning after high school. That’s compared to a national average of 45.3 percent — and it puts Idaho in the bottom five states.

Only four states did worse — Alabama, Mississippi, Nevada and West Virginia.

Among those in the key 25-to-34-year-old cohort, the State Board says the completion rate is 40 percent. But that’s down 2 percent since 2012.

There are all kinds of explanations — an improving economy and culture, for instance. But there’s no denying cost is a huge factor. When the James A. and Louise McClure Center for Public Policy asked a group of high school students why they weren’t continuing their schooling, 39 percent said it was too expensive and more than 15 percent said they saw no economic justification in taking that path.

All of which tells you if Idaho were serious about achieving its 60 percent goal, it would invest heavily in more high school guidance counselors. The $5 million lawmakers allocated toward more counselors is only a small start.

The business community would rally around expanded funding for higher education, even if it meant higher taxes.

Idaho’s nonprofits would not leave it to a single organization, the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, to urge the state’s young people to “go on” to college.

Working in tandem, state lawmakers would find the money to enable State Board members to freeze tuition — if not roll it back — something their colleagues in Washington state achieved last year.

Instead, lawmakers have yet to fully restore all the money colleges and universities lost during the Great Recession-era budget cuts.

This year, they turned down Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s “tuition lock” initiative, which would have guaranteed next fall’s entering freshmen the same rate during the course of their college careers. Idaho State University President Arthur Vailas has launched a pilot “tuition lock” project beginning this fall, however.

Lawmakers put $5 million into more Opportunity Scholarships, but refused to add $5 million to encourage adults who interrupted their education to return to school.

And they rejected Boise Reps. John Gannon’s and Phylis King’s plea to avoid balancing the higher education budget on the backs of students. Both wanted to spend the $6.3 million required to extend a full 3 percent cost-of-living increase to the faculty and staff working at Idaho’s four-year institutions of learning.

When the Gannon-King motion was shut down, it triggered what transpired last week at Moscow — another round of tuition increases, including a 3 percent boost at the University of Idaho and 2 percent at Lewis-Clark State College.

Says the higher education community: The alternatives came down to cannibalizing more academic departments or enduring more employee turnover. State Board members will tell you it’s a modest increase.

But to a potential student who is worried about going into debt, any rate increase is going in the wrong direction. Continue this trend and the UI freshman who pays $7,232 this fall will be charged $7,900 in his senior year.

All of which raises doubts about whether Idaho really wants to expand the percentage of its young workers who have marketable job skills.

Maybe the people leading the Gem State merely want to avoid slipping to 47th place.

Or 48th.