Idaho’s advanced opportunities bill: $16 million and rising

Idaho students tapped into the state’s fast-growing advanced opportunities program to the tune of nearly $16 million during the 2017-18 school year.

More than 32,000 junior high school and high school students took college-level dual credit classes or Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes. The hope is that the program, and the $4,125-per-student allowance, will give high school graduates a taxpayer-funded jumpstart on college.

But as more and more students take up the state’s offer, legislators will have to fork over more and more money to cover the rising costs. Lawmakers earmarked only $7 million for the advanced opportunities program in 2017-18.

For advocates, however, the added costs might fall under the heading of a good problem to have. Advanced opportunities is a component in an ongoing, $100 million effort to convince more high school graduates to continue their education. By 2025, the state wants 60 percent of its young adults to hold a college degree or professional certificate — a number stuck at 42 percent.

The State Department of Education provided a copy of its 2017-18 advanced opportunities report to Idaho Education News Thursday.

The bottom line: 15,938,398.50

Dual credit was the program of choice — by far. Students took more than $13.4 million worth of college-level courses.

But the SDE was quick to note the return on investment. On college campuses, these credits carry a sticker price of $55 million. For every $1 the state spent on dual-credit classes, families saved $4.58 on the potential cost of tuition.

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And students seem prepared to cash in, putting their dual credits toward a college education.

“Most participating students are focused on a trajectory to college,” said Tina Polishchuk, the SDE’s advanced opportunities coordinator.

Stubborn demographic gaps. If Idaho is ever to reach its “60 percent goal” — even after pushing back the target date from 2020 to 2025 — the state will need to convince a whole new cohort of students to continue their education.

But based on the new numbers, some demographic gaps still appear to be deeply entrenched:

  • Fourteen percent of the students in the advanced opportunity program are Hispanic. As the state’s largest ethnic minority, Hispanic students account for nearly 18 percent of the overall student population. Still, the SDE says Hispanic student participation is trending upward, from 13 percent the previous year.
  • American Indian student participation also is low, relative to their overall share of student enrollment.
  • Students in the advanced opportunities program are more likely to also enroll in gifted and talented programs. They are also less likely to receive free or reduced-price lunch, and are far less likely to be English language learners.
  • Female students account for 58 percent of advanced opportunities enrollment. That’s significant because female high school graduates are already much more likely to go on to college — a well-documented state and national trend.

The growing cost. The $16 million advanced opportunities bill is up from about $13 million the preceding year.

And as the costs continue to rise, legislators will again have to plug a hole in the program’s budget. Come January, lawmakers could take money out of the state’s K-12 savings account to cover the rest of the $16 million bill.

The advanced opportunities program’s growth has exceeded legislators’ expectations — and that trend may well continue. The Legislature appropriated $15 million for the program for the budget year that began July 1, a sum that seems unlikely to cover the bill.

Despite the growing cost — or, perhaps, because of the growing student interest — advanced opportunities remains politically popular. Lawmakers have not balked at covering the burgeoning budgets. And on Thursday, speaking to 450 educators at the Idaho Association of School Administrators’ conference in Boise, Republican state superintendent Sherri Ybarra and Democratic challenger Cindy Wilson took turns praising the program.

Coming this fall: Idaho Education News will take a closer look at Idaho’s ongoing struggle to meet its “60 percent goal.” Here’s a link to our award-winning “Life After High School” series from December.

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