Idaho’s postsecondary completion rate improves, slightly

The good news: Idaho’s postsecondary completion numbers are moving up, slowly.

The old news: Idaho still has a long way to go.

As Idaho continues to emphasize its elusive “60 percent goal” — a drive to convince young adults to continue their education beyond high school — let’s dive into the latest numbers from The Lumina Foundation. The Indianapolis, Ind.-based foundation is pushing a national 60 percent goal, with a 2025 target date that mirrors Idaho’s.

Some key Lumina findings for Idaho for 2017:

The bottom line, 40.7 percent. Idaho’s postsecondary completion rate. That’s the percentage of adults who hold a college degree or a professional certificate. And it’s a slight increase from 40.6 percent the preceding year.

Lumina tracks the numbers a little bit differently, looking at all adults from 25 to 64 years old. Idaho’s goal is focused only on 25- to 34-year-olds.

Any way you slice it, though, there’s a big reason why Idaho education, political and business leaders have made the “60 percent goal” their top education priority. They say a higher postsecondary completion rate will help Idaho adults compete for jobs in a growing economy.

Idaho lags in national rankings. That 40.7 percent rate is good enough to beat only three other states: Alabama, Nevada and West Virginia. (See the map, above.)

Nationally, the postsecondary completion rate comes in at 47.6 percent.

The national rankings aren’t just a matter of bragging rights. State leaders say a better-educated work force will also help Idaho compete in the new economy.

Demographic challenges linger. Here, Lumina measures only college graduation rates. The numbers don’t include adults who hold a certificate as opposed to a degree. But the news isn’t good.

Only 15.1 percent of Idaho’s Hispanic adults have a college degree of some kind. Only Arkansas and Nevada had a lower graduation rate. However, Idaho’s Hispanic graduation rate ranked last in the nation in 2016.

For another significant ethnic group, American Indians, the numbers are also grim. Only 15.3 percent of Idaho’s American Indian adults have a degree; only Alaska ranked lower.

Geographic gaps also linger. In Latah County, home to the University of Idaho, 57 percent of adults have a college degree of some kind. In Madison County, home to BYU-Idaho, 56 percent of adults are college graduates.

But in 10 rural counties, fewer than a fourth of adults hold a degree.

(For county-by-county numbers, see the map, below.)


Kris Rodine, spokeswoman, state superintendent Sherri Ybarra: “Any improvement in the postsecondary completion rate is welcome news, but we expect those numbers to rise more significantly in the future, when high school graduates who benefited from our Advanced Opportunities and other go-on efforts reach the age range (25 and up) tracked by Lumina.”

The advanced opportunities program provides seventh through 12-grade students with a $4,125 allowance to take dual-credit college classes or Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate tests. The program is growing rapidly, and lawmakers have put a record $18 million into the program for 2019-20.

Mike Keckler, spokesman, State Board of Education: “It’s important to note that (the 60 percent goal) is based on statewide population, which includes factors such as people moving out of Idaho and others moving in, which can affect the percentage either way. While the improvement cited by Lumina is slight, it’s encouraging to see it moving in the right direction.”

Rod Gramer, president and CEO, Idaho Business for Education: Money is clearly a factor, as high school students decide whether to continue their education. Even with a $7 million increase in the Idaho Opportunity Scholarship, some qualified students will miss out on the money.

And too often, families don’t plan ahead. Parents don’t open college savings accounts, and students only start thinking about finances as they’re finishing high school. “We’re not doing a great job of educating them about the cost of going on.”


More reading: As Idaho pushes its “60 percent goal,” the state encounters obstacles rooted in economics, geography and culture. Click here to read our in-depth series from November, “Obstacles and Options: Building Paths Beyond High School.”

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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