‘Go-on’ numbers trend downward

Idaho’s go-on rate apparently is going downward.

That’s the startling, sobering message from the latest round of numbers from the National Student Clearinghouse.

Coeur d'Alene Academy 2

Forty-four of the Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy’s 53 graduates in 2013 are now enrolled in two- or four-year college. The academy is one of just six Idaho schools to meet a lofty State Board of Education goal: seeing 80 percent of high school graduates enroll in postsecondary programs within a year of getting a diploma.

Just under 52 percent of Idaho’s 2013 high school graduates have enrolled in two- or four-year college, according to the current clearinghouse numbers. This represents a drop from Idaho’s lackluster 2012 numbers, when 54 percent of graduates decided to continue their education.

The apparent drop comes as Idaho policymakers have made postsecondary attendance a centerpiece education issue.

Historically, Idaho’s high school graduation rates are among the highest in the nation — but its college attendance rates are among the nation’s worst. The State Board of Education made this gap a top priority — and the recommendations from Gov. Butch Otter’s education reform task force were written with an eye to improving the postsecondary attendance rate. The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation’s Go On Idaho campaign has focused on encouraging high school graduates to stay in school.

The current National Student Clearinghouse numbers represent a snapshot in time. The clearinghouse counts only students who have actually attended two- or four-year school, State Board spokeswoman Marilyn Whitney said. They do not include 2013 graduates who plan to attend school eventually, after entering the work force, serving in the military or   completing a church mission. So the numbers will go up as students enroll in a four- or two-year school — and decrease when students drop out.

And the dip in 2013 numbers may actually reflect an improving economy, State Board president Emma Atchley of Ashton said Thursday. High school graduates may be taking advantage of a strong labor market and going straight to work, perhaps to earn some money to attend college later.

“We don’t view it with alarm, but we are very focused in preparing the pipeline,” Atchley said of the latest numbers. “It takes time.”

No matter how things ultimately shake out, the latest numbers still illustrate that Idaho has a long way to go to meet its long-term goals. The State Board’s strategic plan includes a lofty long-term benchmark: The board wants to see 80 percent of high school graduates enroll in postsecondary programs within a year of receiving a diploma.

According to the clearinghouse numbers, obtained last week by Idaho Education News, only three charter schools and three small school districts have met the 80 percent threshold for 2013. Taken together, these six small high-achievers account for only 148 graduates — or .8 percent of the 17,143 graduates in Idaho’s collective class of 2013.

A further analysis of the current numbers reveals more troubling signs. The go-on numbers appear to be backsliding in the state’s larger and more urban school districts — even those in close proximity to two- and four-year colleges.

The state’s two largest districts, West Ada and Boise, comfortably beat the statewide average. Each sent more than 61 percent of their graduates to two- or four-year institutions. But both districts saw a dropoff — West Ada’s 2012 go-on rate was 70 percent, Boise’s was 64 percent. This backslide occurred despite continued growth at Boise State University and the College of Western Idaho.

These decreases were by no means unique.

According to the current figures, go-on rates declined at nine of the state’s 10 largest districts. Nampa, the state’s third largest district, held steady at 50 percent, slightly below the state average. The Madison School District, home to Brigham Young University’s Idaho campus, reported a dropoff from 57 percent to 38 percent — although Mormon Church missionary service would certainly contribute to the low attendance rate immediately following high school.

The soft go-on numbers also coincide with a debate over rising tuitions at state-run and private universities alike. And the clearinghouse numbers suggest that college costs — or at least the sticker price of out-of-state or private institutions — are a significant factor in enrollment decisions.

  • More than 6,500 high school graduates enrolled in Idaho colleges and universities. Fewer than 2,400 graduates enrolled out-of-state, or just under 14 percent of the Class of 2013.
  • By a wide margin, public institutions were the destination of choice for college-bound grads. In all, 7,150 grads enrolled in public colleges and universities, while 1,726 grads — or just one-tenth of the Class of 2013 — chose private schools.

For the Albertson Foundation — which began sounding the alarm on lackluster go-on numbers in 2009 — the current figures illustrate that the State Board and Idaho elected officials have plenty of work to do. “Our kids’ futures and Idaho’s economic well being are at risk,” foundation President Jamie MacMillan said Thursday. “This is not a problem that can be solved by one family foundation.”

The answer will come through a “spectrum of educational opportunities,” Otter said Thursday. An emphasis on reading in the early grades and a rigorous high school curriculum will, in turn, connect “to college or professional-technical training and completion.”

More reading: Look up numbers from your local school at Idaho Ed Trends.

Disclosure: Idaho Education News is funded by a grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation. 

  • Steve Smylie

    The intellectual disconnect from our leaders would be funny, if it wasn’t so disastrous.

    The state of Idaho is speaking out of both sides of its mouth. It claims that higher education has value, but the legislature has been slashing it’s support of higher education. Tuition is growing every year, at a rate far surpassing the rate of inflation. Our governor says that he wants more emphasis on reading and more rigorous instruction, but his budgets don’t support his words. Our schools, even after a moderate increase this year, are still $200 million below what the state invested in 2009. So, Idaho has laid off or not replaced teachers, declared war on teacher associations, forced 3/4 of our districts to seek emergency override levies, forced districts to eliminate in-service days, go to 4 day weeks, eliminate purchases, put off maintenance, and dozens of other things that could improve our schools. Teachers are scrambling; trying to figure out Common Core, dealing with bigger classes, handling all kinds of new evaluation standards, seeing their pay is not keeping up with inflation and often flat out frozen! The promises from the politicians haven’t come, indeed I hear every day how that many of my colleagues feel under siege. The Idaho legislature’s own Office of Performance Evaluations even confirmed this in a 2013 report!

    Next, it appears that our political leaders want a charitable foundation to do the work that they are either too lazy, too uninformed, or too cheap to do themselves. The Albertson Foundation was not set up to replace state support but to innovate and experiment.

    Finally, I’ve taught at almost every level of our system from elementary to post graduate, in both public and private settings. I’m here to tell you, our students don’t fail to go on because they lack skills. They may lack a work ethic, but no class is so hard that a determined student can’t figure out a way to pass. They don’t go on because it’s becoming too expensive, scholarships are lacking, and meaningful guidance is unavailable or hard to find. They don’t see the benefit, and many have figured out that graduating from college thousands of dollars in debt isn’t really a good life plan. Our wages are low and the economy seems stagnant. Parents either can’t or don’t save money for college, the cost is skyrocketing, and commercials on TV tell our kids that we think that Idaho is failing. Our children aren’t stupid, they can tell that education doesn’t seem to be a priority to the adults, so why should it matter to them?

    No, our actions speak louder than our words. I say that our leaders don’t really care, because if they really did, their actions would show true support, not weak lip service. I sincerely hope that I’m wrong, but this study only confirms my fears.

  • Adam Collins

    When will Idaho politicians cease treating the symptoms and not the disease? Idaho high school students are doing better than nearly every other state in the country, which suggests that the teachers of these students are amongst the finest in the nation. However, there is absolutely no incentive for students graduating from Idaho high schools to seek higher education if they intend to reside in Idaho. The focus of the Republican Party is strictly on agriculture, ranching, and attracting low-paying service jobs. If a student is going to amass debt pursuing higher education, this necessitates moving out of Idaho, which is the path the Republicans have set for this state for the past thirty years. In an effort to distract the public from their lack of leadership and economic failure, they consistently attack teachers, gathering allies along the way. This is how it has been. This is how it is now. This is how it will always be so long as the Republicans remain a dominant force in Idaho politics.

  • Erica Ziebarth

    I hear constantly of Idaho kids not being able to complete out of state, I wonder what the statistics are for instate vs. out of state attendance. If we don’t fund the fundamentals, how are we expected to fund of future

  • Pam Walker

    Steve and Adam , you are absolutely correct in all you said. Teachers are leaving the profession as soon as they are able (I retired 3 years early rather than continue to live “under siege” in a profession that has become “just a job” and a bad one at that in Idaho). Educators and public education are disparaged on TV here, charter schools and online alternatives take funding from public education, college tuition continues to rise, and young adults must be asking themselves, “Where are the jobs that a college education would lead me to?” Yet none of these root causes are examined by our “leaders” and instead they wage publicity campaigns to convince students to “just go on” — I think students are listening and they are “just going on” to other states where they may be able to make a living and justify the expense and time spent on an education.

  • Tim Sullivan

    Steve Smylie and others, excellent comments. I just did a quick look at the Idaho State Board of Education: One of the seven members has a degree from an in-state college. There might be one more, but his colleges were not identified. I think it should be a requirement that a board member has a degree from an in-state instutition, preferably a 4-year degree, though I’m not totally against a 2-year degree since someone should represent the junior colleges in the state. And most certainly the State Superintendent should have a bachelor’s degree from an in-state, public university.

    These people don’t have an emotional investment in Idaho’s colleges, kids, or future. Why would they?

    In addition, the state itself does not value public education, K-12 or higher ed. The world is getting more competitive and these kids do indeed need to “go on.” I’ve been told recently that Idaho is “throwing money” at education, which stunned me. They’re not throwing anything, and it certainly isn’t money at education.

    Eventually the state will morph into the services industry state — about seven corporation headquarters have left Boise in a decade — and the state will wonder what’s going on. Otter himself bragged to a company that they have the lowest wages in the nation. How about being proud of forward progress, starting with public education?

  • Jeff Collier

    It is disappointing that in order to make the measuring of how many students attend college that there is a large amount of underreporting occurring. If I understand it correctly, the measure is made by looking at how many graduating high school seniors attend college during the next year. However, why is nobody talking about how many LDS students are not attending college until after they serve as missionaries for their church. There has been a recent change in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that has lowered the age for missionary service from 19 to 18 for males and from 21 to 19 for females. There appears to be a sizable LDS population in Idaho. How many of these students are serving as missionaries and then returning to attend college?

    • Kevin S. Wilson

      Such facts are inconvenient to anyone attempting to manufacture a crisis in education in order to profit from the privatization of the public school system. Please keep them to yourself, citizen.

  • Alicia Ritter

    Yawn. Oh, sorry I nodded off with Mr. Wilson’s tiresome “privatization” narrative. The facts speak for themselves. Our kids deserve grown ups to do better.