Idaho students have been listening to us; now it’s our turn to listen to them.
Anyone who keeps up with local news knows that state leaders have been focused on increasing Idaho’s “go-on” rate — that is, the number of young adults who possess or attain postsecondary education or training — to 60 percent by 2020. While we still have a ways to go, Boise State University’s recent public policy survey confirms that Idahoans rank education as their No. 1 concern right now. We understand that it’s not only education that we need to prioritize, but also the economic opportunities and our collective prosperity that investments in education yield.
Students increasingly recognize that a high school diploma alone may not allow them to realize their dreams. This heightened awareness means we’re on the right path; however, students still encounter real barriers to post-high school education, including cost.
As Gov. Butch Otter noted recently, nearly 6,000 students applied for the Idaho Opportunity Scholarship last year. They believed they had demonstrated financial need and had earned a GPA that met the criteria. Many balanced jobs and family responsibilities with sports teams and volunteer work, and they still managed to succeed in their classes. In short, they did what they needed to in order to go on. And yet, we could only fund fewer than 2,000 of these scholarship requests. By doubling the appropriation and rewarding the hard work of many more students, we will ensure more degree and certificate holders and a more qualified workforce.
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Gov. Otter is similarly requesting an appropriation for a new program called the Completion Scholarship, which aims to incentivize those who have demonstrated a desire and ability to succeed in college. It will provide up to $3,000 annually for students who have been out of school for three years or more.
These Completion Scholarship candidates had the motivation and desire to go to college; they also had the skills and determination to make progress toward a degree. Let’s help them finish what they started by providing scholarships that allow them to complete their studies and position themselves for career success.
Finally, Gov. Otter has proposed a program that locks in tuition costs at Idaho’s four-year colleges. As students sit down with their families to figure out how they will afford college, the certainty of a set price for four years might be the difference between going or not. Our state’s leaders have long argued that Idaho businesses can only thrive when provided with regulatory and tax certainty; families trying to stretch tight budgets to accommodate tuition payments could use the same kind of certainty. A tuition lock would allow students to focus on their classes instead of worrying about how they’ll pay next semester’s bill.
Many Idaho students are rising to our expectations; now it’s our turn to do what is expected of us. Instead of merely exhorting students to go on, let’s truly help them get there. The governor’s trio of proposals represents a bold step toward tearing down one of the greatest barriers to boosting our go-on rates: affordability. As such, the Legislature should approve and fund the governor’s proposals and Idahoans should insist that they do so.
Don Soltman is the president of the Idaho State Board of Education. Molly Lenty is vice-president, community affairs officer for Wells Fargo and co-chair of the Educate Idaho Network.