Beyond 37%: Higher ed leaders discuss Idaho’s lagging ‘go-on rate’

On Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Brad Little played moderator, and asked college and university presidents a question that has plagued the state for years.

How can Idaho improve its languid college go-on rate — which has fallen sharply during the pandemic, dropping to 37% in 2021?

Here’s what Little and an audience of about 100 people heard Wednesday, during a Boise Entrepreneur Week higher education roundtable:

Gordon Jones, president, College of Western Idaho. Idaho colleges and universities face two big obstacles: self-doubt and relevance. They have to help would-be students overcome their own doubts about enrolling, or returning to school. They also have to demonstrate their relevance — and a return on a student’s investment.

Cynthia Pemberton, president, Lewis-Clark State College. Advocates for higher education have to “counter the negative narrative” from critics. They need to push back against the false notion that higher education is not a “value-add,” since college graduates have increased earning capacity, for life. “The dollars matter, and those things are relevant.”

Jim Everett, co-president, The College of Idaho. Higher education needs to talk about the relevance of a college education, especially in a rapidly changing job market. “We need to train people to be ready for what comes next.” But building the case for college cannot begin in high school; it begins in early education.

Kevin Satterlee, president, Idaho State University. The biggest increase in college enrollment in U.S. history took place after World War II, with the G.I. Bill. Then, as now, affordability is a key. “Scholarships to get these kids in school will make a difference.”

Scott Green, president, University of Idaho. Affordability is a key, and higher education has to tell its story. There are some encouraging signs. First-year, in-state enrollment increased at the U of I this fall, contributing to a record freshman class. And to the surprise of U of I officials, 52% of the newcomers are first-generation students; normally, that number comes in at about 40%. “I’m hoping the message is getting out there.”

Andrew Finstuen, dean, Boise State Honors College, associate vice president for strategic planning and special initiatives. Scholarships and flexibility are crucial. At Boise State, that means responding to different student demands, when 23% of students are fully online.

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]

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