‘We’re hopeful we run out of money:’ Little seeks to get the word out on Launch

On Thursday, Gov. Brad Little took his push for the Idaho Launch program to the College of Western Idaho’s heavy duty equipment lab, where students train on donated rigs such as excavators. “This room kind of epitomizes what (Launch) is all about.”

NAMPA — Idaho Launch will officially launch next month, and some students are counting down the days.

Hundreds of high school seniors have already signed up for notifications about the Launch application window, which opens on Oct. 3, Gov. Brad Little said Thursday. That’s at least a sign of early interest in the new, $75 million program, which would provide high school graduates up to $8,000 for training tied to in-demand careers.

“We’re hopeful we run out of money,” Little said Thursday, as he toured the College of Western Idaho campus to promote Launch.

Thursday’s brief news conference was heavy with photo-opportunity optics. Little and CWI President Gordon Jones took turns at the podium — with a fleet of heavy construction rigs as a backdrop, and with a line of CWI students standing in the audience. Also in attendance were several Treasure Valley lawmakers, Republican and Democrat alike, who supported the polarizing proposal during the 2023 legislative session.

Thursday’s objective was just to help get the word out.

“This is the fastest, most affordable pathway to great jobs,” Jones said.

And a menu of jobs. The state’s Workforce Development Council, the agency overseeing Launch, agreed last week on a master list of 242 in-demand occupations: careers with at least 50 openings a year, requiring at least some formal training.

Before Oct. 3, seniors can sign up for Launch notifications at the state’s Next Steps Idaho website. And while seniors won’t get Launch grants until next summer, and after graduation, state officials are encouraging students to sign up early — since there will be only enough money to provide grants for about half of Idaho’s Class of 2024.

Little expects the rollout to occur in waves. By about November, he said, the state will have a pretty good sense of interest in the program. By the end of December, students will get preapproved for their grants, pending graduation. Then by January, the state will begin to find out if Launch recipients will be able to find the job training programs they’re looking for.

“We’ve got a lot of fuel on this fire, and there’s going to be little range fires here and little range fires there,” Little said Thursday.

Launch recipients will have a variety of options — coursework at CWI and the state’s three other community colleges, career-technical certificate programs, or other job training programs. But for some training programs, there will likely be more applicants than seats. As a result, the state will allow Launch recipients to hold onto their grants until they make it through a waiting list.

More than 120 would-be CWI students have already asked about Launch, Jones said. But some of these students might have problems finding a seat. Metal welding programs are already full, for example.

If other programs follow suit, CWI could face what Jones called “a high-class problem:” meeting the growing demand of students and employers.

“If this has the kind of surge enrollment that could happen, we’ll want to work with the Legislature to understand where we may need capacity,” he said.

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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