‘Go-on rate’ is stuck in neutral

Despite aggressive efforts at the state level, Idaho’s college go-on rate didn’t budge in 2017.

Only 45 percent of high school graduates enrolled in college in the fall. That’s unchanged from the 2016 rate. In 2015, 46 percent of high school graduates went straight to college.

Despite this stagnation, the State Board of Education finds some good news in the raw numbers. More high school graduates are choosing college — an increase of more than 250 students since 2016. This increase doesn’t change the go-on percentage, however, because the number of high school graduates has also increased.

However the numbers are dissected, the go-on rate has taken on added significance because Idaho is continuing a push to convince more high school graduates to continue their education, and obtain either a college degree or professional certificate. The state wants 60 percent of its young adults to complete some form of a postsecondary program.

The “60 percent goal” and the go-on rate aren’t the same. The 60 percent goal measures postsecondary completion, the go-on rate measures college enrollment. But the go-on rate provides an early snapshot of the class of 2017. It doesn’t account for students who might attend college later — perhaps after completing a church mission or serving in the military — but instead counts only fall enrollees.

All told, 8,328 high school graduates went straight to two- or four-year college in the fall of 2017. In 2016, that number was 8,060.

And that’s the point the State Board emphasized this week, as it rolled out the latest go-on numbers.

“Even though more high school graduates are going on to college, the increase in the overall population of high school age students masks the go-on increase because there are more high school students than there were three years ago,” State Board President Linda Clark said in a guest opinion.

Clark said the trends are “moving in the right direction.” But on Wednesday, two members of the House Education Committee grilled the State Board about the numbers.

Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, pointed out that the go-on rate has dropped since 2015 — a fact supported by the State Board’s own numbers.

And while more Idaho students are going to college, Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt questioned whether it reflects the state’s population growth, as opposed to improved student performance.

“I’m not sure, in referencing these numbers, they are relevant in terms of really drilling down, in terms of what we need to be doing to reach our goals,” said DeMordaunt, R-Eagle.

Idaho’s go-on percentage remained flat, even as the state continues to invest heavily in programs designed to encourage high school graduates to stay in college. As Idaho Education News reported in December, the state has spent more than $100 million since 2013 on an array of initiatives — such as hiring college and career advisers, covering the cost of dual-credit classes and bolstering the state’s college scholarship portfolio.

In addition to that, the State Board has launched lower-cost initiatives designed to encourage high school seniors to enroll in college — and stay in Idaho. Under the direct admissions program, eligible high school seniors receive letters from the State Board, saying they are qualified to enroll in some or all of Idaho’s colleges and universities.

Seniors appear to be getting the message.

In 2017, 6,499 high school graduates enrolled in Idaho’s higher education system, up from 6,225 in 2016 and 5,869 in 2015. Meanwhile, the number of graduates leaving Idaho for college has decreased.

Go-on numbers, by district

A look at 2016 and 2017 go-on rates for the state’s 10 largest districts.

District 2016 2017
West Ada 54 50
Boise 57 54
Nampa 36 38
Pocatello-Chubbuck 43 47
Bonneville 37 39
Idaho Falls 49 46
Coeur d’Alene 59 57
Twin Falls 43 47
Vallivue 39 40
Caldwell 42 32

Idaho Education News reporter Clark Corbin and data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report. 

More reading: Link to “Life After High School,” an in-depth series on Idaho’s struggles to meet its “60 percent goal.”

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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