More Young Idahoans Graduate From College, But Not Enough Of Them

Oct 23, 2013

Half of these Boise State students might drop out. If they and their peers reverse the current trend Idaho could get what it wants, a higher percentage of people with degrees.
Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

Idaho’s State Board of Education wants 60 percent of Idahoans 25-to-34-years-old to have a post-secondary degree or certificate by 2020.  A study released this week finds the state may be closer than people suspected to reaching that goal.

The board's goal, which it set a few years ago, was meant to focus the education community on meeting the needs of employers. It has also become a rallying cry for many Idaho groups focused on education, including the Idaho Business for Education coalition.

Kevin Cahill says people tend to focus on today’s 25-to 34-year-olds. About a third of that demographic has education beyond high school.

Cahill is the economist IBE hired to figure out how close the state is to its education goal. He’s with the public policy firm EcoNorthwest. Cahill looked at 18-to-27-year-olds in Idaho. He says they’re the people that matter in considering the 2020 goal because they’ll be between 25-34 in seven years. He says about 45 percent of them already have degrees or certificates, or will by 2020. He says that's the good news. 

“But I think it’s fair to say that if you put us on auto pilot we’d fall short of the goal,” Cahill says. “And we really do need to focus on policies that will bring us to the 60 percent target for 2020.”

Cahill says his finding that 18-to-27-year-olds have more education than those who are slightly older shows Idaho’s schools are making good progress . Many of the groups that champion the 60 percent goal focus on K-12 education. That includes Idaho Business for Education. But changes to public schools right now won’t impact the goal. That’s because most of the people who will be 25-34 in 2020 are already out of school. Cahill says if Idaho wants to reach its goal it needs to focus on them.

“If you want to look at what’s the low hanging fruit, it’s folks who have started [college] and kind of helping them along and helping them to achieve their goals,” Cahill says. “We have lots of evidence that completion rates are lagging in Idaho, that folks start [higher] education and just don’t finish.”

Cahill says some research says half of Idahoans who start college don’t finish. He doesn’t advocate specific policies, but Cahill thinks helping people stay in school will be easier than convincing young people who have been out of high school for a while to sign up for college or career training. Though, he says the state needs to figure out how to do that as well.

IBE director Rod Gramer says the organization is pleased with the report but will continue to focus on K-12 issues, like implementing Idaho Core Standards and the governor’s education improvement task force recommendations.

“I am looking at the goal more broadly,” Gramer says. “The 60 percent is not fixed in time or limited to just this cohort. It doesn't do Idaho any good if we hit the goal in 2020 only to have the cohorts coming up behind them not as well educated.”

Cahill also looked at migration patterns. He says on average the people moving into Idaho are less educated than the people moving out. He says that will have minimal impact by 2020, but by 2030 and beyond it becomes a concern.

Here is the full report.

Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio