Too few high school students in Idaho go to college and too few college-bound students stay long enough to graduate, according to the latest report from Idaho Kids Count.
The report, which was released Monday, underscored the need to better prepare students for college and cited efforts to make school graduation requirements more rigorous as one step toward an educational foundation necessary for optimum earning power in the workplace.
In Idaho, more young people move directly into the work force from high school than in the rest of the country. More young people are married, too, and have familial obligations that can interrupt their pursuit of higher education, according to the report.
“With so many of Idaho’s young people raising children, poverty for young adults means that children start their lives in poverty as well,” states the report, co-authored by Harriet Shaklee, a family development specialist with the University of Idaho Extension Service.
More than 26 percent of Idaho’s young adults lived in poverty in 2003, compared with 21 percent in the U.S. as a whole. In 2002, Idaho ranked number one in the nation for impoverished young adults.
Shaklee and Kids Count, a nonprofit that tracks statistical trends on children and families, presented the report findings to the Family Studies Annual Policy Forum at Boise State University on Monday.
The report’s release came just days after a state task force on high school graduation requirements made its final recommendations to the state Board of Education.
The task force retained its call for four years of math and science for high school graduates, while dropping other controversial suggestions, such as requiring middle-school students to maintain a C average.
The report noted that a lack of higher math and science credits is a problem for students wanting to advance to college. However, barriers to higher education are more numerous than the science and math deficit in high school, Shaklee said.
“Sitting in the seat of a math classroom for four years isn’t going to solve your math deficit,” she said. “We want to make sure any student can complete them (the required classes). We live in a world where there is no place for high school dropouts.”
Without college, Idaho’s young adults have less earning power than their peers nationwide. Women with post-graduate education make about $31,000 more on average than high school dropouts, while men make about $44,000 more than their less-educated counterparts.
All this is familiar to Coeur d’Alene’s Sue Thilo, who sits on the state Board of Education and chaired the task force on graduation requirements.
“The research does show that the higher the level of education, the better the earning potential is for employees,” she said.
The Kids Count report suggests that, although Idaho has some of the most affordable colleges and universities in the nation, more needs to be done to help students pay for college.
Twenty years ago, students working at minimum wage could earn two-thirds of their college costs by working full time at a summer job. Now it takes a year of full-time minimum-wage work to fund a year of education at a four-year public college or university, according to the report.
Yet Idaho only offers 3 percent of federal financial aid offered to needy students, while the state financial support in other states averages 40 percent of federal financial aid.
Thilo said the new high school requirements make college more affordable by reducing the need to take remedial classes in college.
Shaklee said the state also needs to address the challenges faced by married students with children. Many of those students can only attend college part time, and thus aren’t eligible for scholarships. Plus they’re not as mobile as the typical student.
“Maybe Idaho needs to think of a community college system that provides an education closer to home,” she said.