The path to improving Idaho’s economic prospects goes through postsecondary campuses. The Legislature must help more students on their way.
On Monday, Lt. Gov. Brad Little urged education committee members to adopt a resolution calling for 60 percent of Idahoans between the ages of 25 and 34 to have a college degree or postsecondary certificate by 2020. The State Board of Education adopted that goal in 2010.
It might take a revolution, rather than a resolution, to get there. The current rate is about 40 percent.
About 52 percent of high school students chose to continue their education in 2013, a drop from 54 percent in 2012. The University of Idaho reported a 1.4 percent decline in enrollment for the 2015-16 year. This downward trend has occurred against the backdrop of an aggressive public relations campaign called Don’t Fail Idaho. To help boost applications, the state began covering the cost of SATs for every student.
The stakes are high, as reported in Sunday’s Spokesman-Review. Idaho’s workforce gap is expected to grow to a whopping 63,000 jobs by 2025. By then, employers will need an estimated 118,000 qualified workers but only will have 55,000 available.
To fill the gap, Gov. Butch Otter is pushing to expand professional-technical education. Last year, such programs graduated 542 students. All got jobs. About 850 students are on waiting lists for programs in 30 fields, such as information technology, health care and manufacturing. Otter is calling for a 10.4 percent increase in funding, which would enroll about 400 more students.
As for students seeking bachelor’s degrees (and beyond), Otter is asking lawmakers to add $5 million to the state’s Opportunity Scholarship, a need-based award that also has a waiting list. For the 2015-16 school year, 4,017 students were eligible for the scholarship, which offers up to $3,000 a year, but the state could fund only 1,900 new scholarships and renewals, according to Idaho Education News.
State Board of Education Executive Director Matt Freeman told lawmakers Friday that many high school students are being told not to bother to apply for the scholarship. Otter’s request would nearly double the fund, meaning it could help an additional 1,700 students.
In his State of the State address, the governor also called for another $5 million for a new “Completion Scholarship” and for a “tuition lock” program.
The new scholarship is aimed at drawing people who have attended some college or other postsecondary program but didn’t attain their degrees or credentials. It’s a good fit for adults trying to improve their job skills.
A locked tuition means college students who commit to finishing their degrees in four years would pay the same rate each year.
Idaho’s lawmakers might be frustrated with results so far, but the state’s employers are counting on them to close what in a decade will be a critical skills gap.
To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion.
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