Counselors advise the state on college ‘go-on’ woes

Even if a high school graduate leaves 12th grade with a diploma and plans to go to college, things don’t always work out that way.

Each summer, some Idaho high school graduates decide against going to college — a “summer melt” that can happen if a would-be student falls behind on college paperwork or runs out of money.

Then, more than 30 percent of Idaho’s first-year college students drop out before their second year.

Both trends contribute to Idaho’s stagnant and stubbornly low college graduation rates. In June, a group of 31 high school counselors and career advisers spent three days discussing the problem. The group’s recommendations went public this week.

Convened by the University of Idaho and the State Board of Education, the Idaho’s Future Initiative project viewed the problem from a different vantage point.

The participants “are not highly positioned policymakers who often populate statewide task forces or advisory committees,” said Jean M. Henscheid of the U of I’s McClure Center for Public Policy Research, in a report summarizing the June meeting. “They are the hands-on guides and mentors who work with students to determine best paths to college and career success.”

To be sure, some usual suspects in the task force arena were on hand, but only to watch. Observers included Marilyn Whitney, Gov. Butch Otter’s aide on education topics, Senate Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer and Rod Gramer of Idaho Business for Education.

Left to chart their own course, the counselors and advisers made nine recommendations focused on eighth grade through the first year of college — and the high school-to-college transition.

Among the group’s recommendations:

  • Create a network of high school and college advisers and counselors. By working together, advisors and counselors could slow the “summer melt,” and help students adjust to college.
  • Manage the meteoric growth of dual credit programs, which allow high school students to take college-level courses. As more students take dual credit classes, at state expense, counselors and teachers are struggling to cope with the demand. The group suggests more consistent delivery of dual-credit classes — and education about the program for students, parents and counselors.
  • Rethinking the way students can spend their Fast Forward dollars — a $4,125 line of credit that covers dual credit and Advanced Placement classes, or other initiatives designed to encourage high school graduates to stay in school. One possibility: Allow graduates to put their leftover money towards college costs.

The recommendations come as Idaho continues to struggle with its vaunted “60 percent goal.” The state wants 60 percent of its 25- to 34-year-olds to hold a postsecondary degree or certificate, but that number hovers at about 40 percent. A gubernatorial task force — designed to look at the higher education system and the 60 percent goal — has conceded Idaho won’t meet the goal by its 2020 deadline.

The task force received advance copies of the U of I report during its meeting Friday.