As advanced opportunities program grows, some gaps are evident

The State Department of Education and the State Board of Education came armed Tuesday with a lot of numbers — all illustrating the rapid growth of Idaho’s advanced opportunities programs.

And a few numbers caught Rep. Ryan Kerby’s eye.

Rep. Ryan Kerby

Kerby, R-New Plymouth, wanted to know why students of color and students in poverty are less likely to take college-level dual credit classes while in high school. And he wanted to know what the state is doing about it.

“This is a cultural navigation that we’re up against here,” Matt McCarter of the SDE told the House Education Committee Tuesday. In many cases, these students and their parents haven’t talked about college, because they don’t see it as a viable option.

That mindset translates into the dual credit numbers that got Kerby’s attention.

For Idaho’s class of 2015, only 31 percent of students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch graduated with dual credit; for other students, that number was 43 percent.

For the class of 2016, 44 percent of white students graduated with dual credit. The numbers were lower for Asian students (39 percent), Latino students (32 percent), Native American students (29 percent) and African American students (28 percent).

Some programs are helping, McCarter said. The state’s continued investment in new college and career advisers is helping. Some districts, such as Blaine County and Caldwell, send Spanish-speaking students to Boise State University so they can take Spanish-language exams that could earn them college credits.

Despite the demographic gaps, Idaho’s advanced opportunities program is mushrooming. The state provides every student a $4,125 line of credit to take college-level courses before college — and students are responding:

  • In 2016-17, 27,859 students took 153,728 dual credits.
  • Across the state, 126 students left high school with an associate’s degree.
  • Idaho put $13 million of taxpayer money into advanced opportunities (taking money out of savings to cover unexpected costs), parents and students saved $46 million in college tuition.

The long-term question is whether the advanced opportunities program will deliver what Idaho policymakers really want to see — an improvement in Idaho’s stubbornly low postsecondary graduation rates. The state has made little progress toward its “60 percent” postsecondary goal, but Tracie Bent of the State Board said a wave could break soon. As more students graduate from high school with dual credits, college graduation numbers could surge in a couple of years.

Gov. Butch Otter and state superintendent Sherri Ybarra have agreed on a $15 million budget request for advanced opportunities. As lawmakers consider this spending increase, Tuesday’s presentation was clearly geared to make them comfortable with the investment.

“There is much to celebrate,” McCarter said. “Advanced opportunities is an example of what is going right in this state.”








Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday