Education in Idaho – The Need to Act

“Idaho is at risk. Not only is Idaho coming up short with respect to educating our children, but we are doing so in an economic environment where those with lower skills fall further behind. Left unchanged, our educational system will leave the next generation of Idahoans with limited opportunities, a narrow window for economic advancement, and a lower standard of living. Idaho, as a state, will suffer the negative health, civic, and social consequences of a society that cannot compete economically” (Idaho At Risk: How Bold Leadership and Accountability Can Prepare Idaho For the Future, Cahill, 2019).

Public education in Idaho is at an important juncture. With an acknowledgement that “Idaho’s educational system comes up short in preparing students to navigate the pace of innovation,” it is time for each of us, including public and private partnerships, to investigate ways to assist our communities, particularly rural communities. Idaho’s high school graduation rates (79.8%, 2017) remain some of the lowest in the country (84.6% nationally, 2017) with only 48% of high school graduates “going on” with some level of post-secondary education compared to 67% nationally. Of those 48% who enrolled full-time in undergraduate, degree seeking programs, 70.4% (2018) continued into their second year; 42.8% of undergraduate, degree-seeking students attending college part-time were retained from the first year to the second year (Idaho State Board of Education, 2018). Furthermore, “the idea that new generations of high school graduates (across the country) will surpass their parents‘ level of education has hit a plateau” (Chen Delos, 2008). Widespread fears that college graduates complete their training with huge debt along with continued pockets of high unemployment has caused families and communities to no longer encourage the next generation to strive more than the previous one.

The sustainability of rural communities in Idaho is vital to its future. Students – and families – in rural communities often lack the aspirational goals of college-bound high school students from more affluent communities, not by any fault of their own, but simply due to insufficient information and understanding about the opportunities available to them. We cannot ask children to aspire to what they don’t know and don’t understand. By supporting better, earlier, and equal access to educational information beyond high school, we can invigorate students to see the link between their education and their hopes and dreams. As Robert Bardwell, MEd, board member of NACAC, stated, “Creating a college-going culture early in a student’s educational career is essential to ensuring he or she enrolls and persists later on. While there are numerous other factors that will ultimately determine success once there, one thing is clear: early awareness and exposure is critical in their post-secondary planning process.” To address this challenge, I am laying the groundwork for a new program initiative called High Desert College Collaborative (HDCC) which I aim to start in 2020. More details on HDCC’s mission, vision, and program components will be coming soon.