New report casts new doubt on Idaho’s 60 percent goal

Idaho continues to languish well behind its lofty college completion goals, according to a newly released national study.

On top of that, Idaho’s numbers rank No. 46 in the nation.

In 2014, 37.7 percent of Idaho’s adults held a postsecondary degree or certificate, the Lumina Foundation wrote in an annual report on college completion rates. The national completion rate was 45.3 percent.

The latest Idaho numbers, released Friday, cast even more doubt on the state’s oft-stated “60 percent goal.” Since 2010, the State Board of Education and Idaho political and business leaders have coalesced behind a 10-year goal to boost college completion rates. They want to see 60 percent of Idaho’s 25- to 34-year-olds hold some form college degree or certificate.

The 2016 Legislature restated its support for the goal, through the form of a nonbinding resolution. But even in passing the resolution, some lawmakers conceded their 2020 target date is ambitious — if not impossible.

“(It’s) a stretch goal,” House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, said during floor debate in March.

The Lumina study underscores the extent of that stretch.

  • First, Lumina tracks completion rates for 25- to 64-year-olds. In other words, Idaho’s 37.7 percent number takes in a much larger segment of the work force — not just Idaho’s 25- to 34-year-old target subset.
  • While the “60 percent goal” has become a mantra in education and political circles, the rhetoric has yielded only halting results. In 2010, Idaho had a 34.7 percent completion rate — and that’s not even an apples-to-apples comparison with the 2014. The 2010 number includes only adults who hold at least a college associate’s degree, not adults who hold a certificate.
  • No Idaho county hit the magic 60 percent number, and only two topped the 50 percent threshold. Latah County, home to University of Idaho, had a 55.1 percent rate, while Madison County, home to Brigham Young University-Idaho, had a 52 percent. Meanwhile, six rural counties lagged below 20 percent; Owyhee County had the lowest completion rate, at 16.5 percent.

Idaho beat out only four other states: Alabama, Mississippi, Nevada and West Virginia, which ranked last in the nation at 32.6 percent.

At the top end of the spectrum, Massachusetts had a 55.4 percent completion rate.

The Lumina numbers doesn’t mean the 60 percent goal is out of the question, State Board spokesman Blake Youde said Wednesday morning.

“We have work to do,” he said. “It’s an affirmation of why we have this push.”

Lumina, an independent foundation based in Indianapolis, has embraced its own variation on the 60 percent theme. The foundation wants 60 percent of the adult work force to hold a postsecondary degree or certificate, by 2025.

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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