There is much to be optimistic about now that Gov. Butch Otter has commissioned the State Board of Education to lead a new task force on the topic of higher education.
Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education, formed four years ago to tackle K-12 issues, was populated with a focused, no-nonsense collection of educators, administrators, citizens and lawmakers who produced 20 recommendations that were on point, doable, and largely successfully implemented and funded by the Idaho Legislature, which bought into the task force’s five-year blueprint.
The eclectic and independent nature of that task force has been a stellar example of collaboration in state government because it engaged the public and lawmakers in a joint venture.
Though not every Otter task force has met with such positive outcomes, this one now forming is off to a great start with two experienced co-chairs, both veterans of the K-12 team: Bob Lokken, CEO of WhiteCloud Analytics Inc., who chairs the Idaho Business for Education board of directors; and Linda Clark, vice president of the State Board of Education and the former superintendent of the West Ada School District, Idaho’s largest.
The goals for the task force are to study the state of higher education in Idaho, measure the effectiveness of new and ongoing initiatives, examine the rate of those who “Go On” to higher education and consider the state’s role in funding — and how that might be linked to outcome metrics such as graduation rates and other factors.
None of the above is any cakewalk. The State Board knows it has challenges in getting Idaho students to pursue postsecondary education. Since 2010 the goal has been to get 60 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds to have a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2020. So far, that rate has languished in the mid-40 percentile range, occasionally dipping lower.
In our discussions with community college and university administrators, we know that our more robust economy — where kids can leave high school and take a better-paying job than just a few years ago — has led to stiffer competition for persuading them to pursue postsecondary options. Plus, the passion and buy-in present when dealing with parents and adults in the K-12 discussion are different when the topic is young adults.
But a team led by Lokken and Clark will drill down to identify solutions to affordability issues and ideas to begin training students in the skills employers demand, and to try to produce improved “Go On” rates and graduation rates.
When they finish, we’ll be advocating that they take on the third leg of Idaho’s challenges: early childhood education. When kids grow up loving to read and learn, the goals of K-12 and postsecondary education will be much easier to achieve.
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