Idaho makes slight progress toward ’60 percent goal’

Idaho has made slight headway toward its “60 percent goal,” but still has a long way to reach the mark.

Forty-four percent of the state’s young adults hold a college degree or professional certificate, newly released data from the State Board of Education show.

The 2019 number represents a slight increase from four consecutive years at a 42 percent attainment rate. Yet it still leaves the state 16 percentage points short of a statewide goal for top education leaders: getting 60 percent of Idaho’s 25- to 34-year-olds obtain a degree or certificate.

State Board President Debbie Critchfield said the slight increase is still a move in the right direction.

“(Forty-two percent) has been a hard threshold to break,” she told EdNews Monday, adding that it’s hard to pinpoint which part of an ongoing drive from education, political and business leaders might have helped move the 2019 number.

The State Board launched the 60 percent goal in 2010. In recent years, it has dominated much of the K-12 discussion in Idaho and underscored an urgent need to better prepare the state’s young people for a changing labor market.

The State Board of Education says it hasn’t abandoned the goal since the coronavirus pandemic struck earlier this year. Yet as the number has remained mostly flat since 2012, state leaders have talked about it less and less.

A closer look at the data

The latest numbers also shed light on which types of degrees Idahoans are — and aren’t — pursuing. A bachelor’s degree remains the most sought-after path to higher ed since 2012. Professional certificates, associate and advanced and professional degrees are in less of a demand.

However, the 2019 increase appears concentrated in advanced or professional degrees: college degrees beyond a four-year bachelor’s degree.

The percentage of Idahoans holding an associate’s degree or a professional certificate remained stagnant, while the percentage of residents holding a bachelor’s degree actually decreased slightly.

Many state leaders have said professional certificates could be the linchpin to hitting the 60 percent goal.

Here’s a breakdown of the attainment-rate picture in Idaho since 2012. (Numbers are rounded, and the overall figure can differ from the rates of Idahoans holding a specific degree or certification.)

Further reading: In 2018, Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert spent five months talking to students, teachers and policymakers about the state’s “60 percent” goal. Click here for his eight-part series on the subject. 

About Devin Bodkin

Reporter Devin Bodkin covers education issues in East Idaho. He is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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