Idaho’s ‘go-on rate’ shows no improvement

Idaho’s newest “go-on” numbers came up flat — again.

Only 44.6 percent of the state’s high school graduates went straight to college last fall. That’s pretty much unchanged from the go-on rate the State Board of Education reported a year ago, and it’s a shade lower than the 2016 rate.

And the numbers have remained flat, despite the state’s ongoing, multimillion-dollar push to encourage high school graduates to continue their education.

State education leaders had little to say about the latest go-on snapshot.

State superintendent Sherri Ybarra would not comment directly on the new numbers, but expressed optimism for the long haul. “I am confident the go-on rate will increase in the coming years as we see more results from the state’s recent investments in advanced opportunities, college and career advising, scholarships, and other ways of encouraging K-12 students to continue to college or (career-technical education) programs,” Ybarra said in a statement.

The State Board’s appointees are withholding comment. “It’s difficult to draw a conclusion at this point … until all the data are in,” spokesman Mike Keckler said.

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What is the go-on rate — and why is it significant?

The go-on rate tracks high school graduates who enroll in a two- or four-year college.

Since it is strictly a college enrollment measure, it doesn’t take into account the high school graduates who decide to pursue a professional certificate. And the fall go-on rate doesn’t account for high school grads who put college on hold to enlist in the military, serve a church mission or take a “gap year” to earn money for tuition.

This year’s raw numbers: Close to 8,200 high school grads went straight to college. More than 10,100 graduates did something else.

The go-on rate isn’t the same as Idaho’s “60 percent goal,” a campaign to get more 25- to 34-year-olds to get a college degree or a professional certificate. But the two metrics are related. The go-on rate at least tracks the number of students who begin work toward a college degree.

Gaps and common themes

A few patterns emerge in the new numbers:

  • In high-poverty districts — where at least 60 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch — high school graduates are less likely to attend college. The go-on rate was 41.5 percent.
  • The go-on rate for charter schools came in at 43.5 percent, slightly below the state average.
  • The state’s 10 largest school districts had a go-on rate of 46.6 percent, slightly above the state average. Even among these large districts, accounting for nearly half of the state’s enrollment, results can vary widely (see the table above for details).

In Coeur d’Alene and Nampa — two large districts that are far apart in go-on rates — officials have a similar take on the numbers. A go-on rate tells only part of the story.

While 58 percent of Coeur d’Alene’s graduates left high school for college, that still leaves 42 percent of the graduating class. Wherever these grads go, advisers and counselors want to make sure they go there prepared.

“We’re not just focusing on the four-year, two-year (colleges),” said Trina Caudle, the district’s secondary education director.

And the district is trying to get students focused early. Coeur d’Alene has used its share of college and career advising money to hire two high school advisers, and has since added a third adviser to work in its three middle schools.

In Nampa, district officials are encouraged by the growth of the career-technical program. While 293 of last year’s high school graduates went straight to college, 140 graduates left high school with an industry certification, spokeswoman Kathleen Tuck said. This doesn’t help Nampa’s go-on rate, but these graduates are ready to head into the workplace and earn a good salary.

And Nampa is tracking the students who take dual-credit or Advanced Placement classes — at taxpayer expense — but still don’t enroll in college. In a high-poverty district, where 64 percent of students qualify for lunch subsidies, economic realities can stand in the path to college.

“For a lot of these kids, it might be that they need to earn some money,” Tuck said.

A snapshot in time

The go-on rate changes in time, and for the better.

For the class of 2018, the rates will improve in time, as students enroll in college after military service, a church mission or a stint in the workplace. For example, for the graduating class of 2014, the three-year college go-rate came in 15 percentage points higher than the immediate go-on rate.

The numbers also change over time, because the State Board continues to track students after graduation. It is easy for the State Board to track students who enroll in an state two- or four-year college — and it will only get easier, as more students use the board’s Apply Idaho website to fill out their admissions forms.

It’s tougher to track students who enroll in a private college, or attend college out of state. The board uses National Student Clearinghouse Research Center data to update the state’s numbers.

On top of that, the State Board moved some students around in its go-on reports from previous years, to better reflect when these students graduated from high school.

In other words, it can be tricky to make an apples-to-apples comparison between go-on rates.

Cathleen McHugh, the State Board’s chief research officer, says it’s probably more accurate to compare the initial fall go-on rates — the snapshots that cover immediate enrollment, just months after high school graduation day.

These are the numbers that have dropped slightly, from 46 percent in 2016 to 45 percent last fall.

Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report.

More reading: Click here to read “Obstacles and Options: Building Paths Beyond High School,” an in-depth, eight-part series on Idaho’s campaign to hit its “60 percent goal,” and the demographic realities that stand in the way.

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