BEYOND GO-ON: What state data does — and doesn’t — measure

Every year, the State Board of Education releases a new “go-on rate” — a percentage representing the Idaho graduates who go to college immediately after graduating high school. And every year, the stat gets mixed reactions. 

To some, the go-on rate depicts failure — less than half of Idaho students are heading to college immediately after high school. Others say that the data paints an incomplete picture of the success stories that come out of Idaho schools. 

Both narratives have some truth to them. The state isn’t hitting its 60% go-on benchmark — a goal the State Board established years ago. In fact, the go-on rate has consistently declined since 2017, when Idaho last hit 50%. 

But the majority of students are furthering their education in other ways: they’re completing apprenticeships, enlisting in the military, going to trade schools or getting high-paying jobs with benefits right out of high school. These stories are left out of the data.

And misconceptions about go-on data — which actually includes multiple statistics, and tracks college enrollment up to three years after a student graduates high school — cause confusion about what “going on” really means.

In our new “Beyond go-on” series, we’re breaking down the numbers, and investigating where the majority of Idaho students are going after high school, if not to college. 

How go-on data is gathered — and a breakdown of the most recent data

To build the annual go-on scores, the State Board uses data from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) — a national nonprofit dedicated to education research. 

The NSC collects student enrollment data from around 3,600 colleges and universities — representing an estimated 97% of college enrollment, according to the organization’s website.

 In Idaho, the NSC collects data from 12 colleges and universities:

  • Boise State University.
  • Idaho State University.
  • University of Idaho.
  • College of Western Idaho.
  • College of Southern Idaho.
  • College of Eastern Idaho.
  • North Idaho College.
  • Lewis-Clark State College.
  • Brigham Young University, Idaho.
  • Northwest Nazarene University.
  • The College of Idaho.
  • Carrington College.

The NSC also gathers enrollment data for Idaho graduates who study in other states. 

The State Board uses these numbers, combined with enrollment data gathered directly from state universities and colleges, to produce a set of annual go-on rates. 

Although there are multiple go-on rates — which cover everything from five-year enrollment to demographic breakdowns — one gets the bulk of attention from Idahoans, including legislators and policymakers: the fall-immediate go-on rate.

The fall-immediate rate is typically referred to as simply ‘the go-on rate.’ The number depicts the percentage of students who continue their higher education in the fall just after their high school graduation.

The most recent fall-immediate rate is 42%, according to data released by the State Board on June 30. That percentage shows that 8,459 out of Idaho’s 20,253 2022 high school graduates attended college the semester following their high school graduation.

Idaho’s fall-immediate rate has remained consistent for the past three years, after a drop during the pandemic:

  • 2019: 47%
  • 2020: 42%
  • 2021: 43%
  • 2022: 42%

The last time Idaho hit a 50% go-on rate was in 2017.

The State Board also captures three-year go-on rates, which account for students who enroll in a higher education institution within three years of graduating high school. The State Board uses the fall-immediate rate as a base, and adds on enrollment measured at the three year mark after a high school class graduated. That means the data changes and becomes more accurate with time — but it also falls out of the limelight, and few pay attention to the updated data.

When measuring go-on data for the class of 2017, for example, the state would release a fall-immediate rate around July 2018 and a three-year rate in 2020.

The State Board measures this data to account for students who may not go to college immediately after high school, but enroll after serving religious missions or taking gap years — typically, the state sees an increase of at least 10 percentage points in college enrollment from a graduating class’ fall-immediate rate to their three-year rate. 

The most recent three-year rate is for the class of 2018. It shows that by 2021 — three years after graduation — 60% of graduated students had enrolled in college, a 12 percentage point jump from the class of 2018’s fall-immediate rate, which sat at 48%.

Similar jumps were seen in previous years’ data: 

  • Class of 2017: 50% fall-immediate, 63% three-year.
  • Class of 2016: 49% fall-immediate, 63% three-year.
  • Class of 2015: 48% fall-immediate, 64% three-year.
  • Class of 2014: 49% fall-immediate, 64% three-year.

The state also breaks down go-on demographics data, and each school receives its own go-on rate. 

In a June 30 announcement, the State Board adjusted go-on rates for 2020, 2021 and 2022 upward, due to data reconfigurations within the National Student Clearinghouse. It is unclear how these adjustments impacted demographics data. This demographics data was obtained prior to the adjustments.

State Board data for the 2020-21 school year shows that go-on rates for groups that typically see more college-bound graduates — white students, female students and students who are not eligible for free or reduced-price lunches (FRPL) — dropped at higher rates during the pandemic than demographics with lower go-on rates.

Still, Hispanic, male and low-income student populations see fewer college enrollments.


What does the go-on data tell us, and what is it used for?

The go-on data doesn’t tell the complete story of most Idaho graduates, but it does give a look into who is going to college right after high school — and who isn’t.

Most Idaho graduates aren’t going to one of the 12 colleges measured by the NSC right after high school — only 42% are. But most graduates are going to college within three years after graduation, showing that there’s a desire among students to take gap years, go on missions, or explore another option between graduation and college. Still, according to the most recent data, 40% of graduates aren’t going to college at all.

And the students who don’t go to college right away are disproportionately male, Hispanic and/or low-income.

This data, state officials say, helps colleges and state agencies measure the effectiveness of programs designed to improve the high school-to-college pipeline. The data can shed light on higher education needs and disparities across the state, and show higher education institutions how they can better serve the communities who are falling through the cracks.

But gaps in the data create some limitations to how the rates can be used, and what they really mean. 

What the data doesn’t include — and what it means for Idaho schools and students

Go-on data is based on a trove of information — but it still doesn’t tell the whole story. Many of the paths it overlooks are gaining popularity among students — and receiving more state funding and support. 

State data excludes post-high school paths outside the traditional college arena, including most trade schools, job training programs and apprenticeships in Idaho. It also leaves out students who go straight into the workforce, enlist in the military, serve religious missions, or volunteer for organizations like the Peace Corps. 

Career training schools like Oliver Finley, Aveda and Paul Mitchell cosmetology schools, and Meridian’s Northwest Lineman College, aren’t counted in state data. Neither are Boise Bible College or Moscow’s New Saint Andrews College.

Upwards of 500 students attend cosmetology programs statewide. As of 2020, another 785 students were enrolled at Northwest Lineman College. Hundreds more enroll in workforce training programs or apprenticeships outside the traditional college and university system each year. 

These exclusions, some educators and state officials say, paint a limited picture of what “going on” really means for Idaho students. 

“We want to be held accountable for whatever metrics the State Board comes up with, but we want the accountability to be fair and accurate, and not underrepresented.” – Jim Foudy, Blaine County School District superintendent. 

Blaine County superintendent Jim Foudy is a longtime advocate for more comprehensive go-on data. 

In his previous role as McCall-Donnelly district superintendent, Foudy gathered qualitative go-on data from graduates each year. He knew where each of their around 60 graduates were headed. The majority, he said, were going to college, trade schools or straight into the workforce. They were contributing to their communities and their local economies. 

But when the district received its annual go-on report, many success stories weren’t depicted. 

“The percentage that we got from the go-on rate data wasn’t consistent with the percentage that we empirically knew,” Foudy said. “And when I started talking with some superintendents about it — the veteran superintendents — their response was, ‘We’ve always known that the data is not accurate.’” 

But accuracy matters, said Foudy. The superintendent doesn’t want the data to disappear, but he wants the public to know what it really means for Idaho students. 

“We want to be held accountable for whatever metrics the State Board comes up with, but we want the accountability to be fair and accurate, and not underrepresented,” the superintendent said.

Jim Foudy, Blaine County superintendent

The issue boils down to definitions.

Foudy views going to trade school or a career apprenticeship as viable “go-on” options — but the definition that underlies the data is much more limited.

Foudy worked with staff at the State Board and the Idaho School Boards Association to try to broaden the definition of go-on and account for more students’ plans, but they hit roadblocks, including a lack of official data on alternative post-high school options, strict national reporting requirements, and simple clerical errors. 

Cathleen McHugh, the State Board’s chief research officer, acknowledges these gaps — and the issues they present to districts and students. 

“This is just one positive post-high school outcome,” McHugh said of going on to college. “We want to stress that there are many ways to be successful, this is just one of them.” 

State superintendent Debbie Critchfield agrees. 

“There’s so many ways to account for that success that can’t be rolled up into a math equation.” – Debbie Critchfield, superintendent of public instruction. 

Throughout her tenure as State Board president and state superintendent, she has advocated for messaging that recognizes the success stories beyond the traditional college and university system.

During the most recent legislative session, Critchfield spearheaded legislation supporting career-technical education, apprenticeship programs and job training initiatives — all options that funnel added support to students who may not want to go to college right after graduation. 

“We can’t capture all the ways that people are successful and how they go on,” Critchfield said. “There’s so many ways to account for that success that can’t be rolled up into a math equation.” 

Critchfield isn’t discounting higher education or degrees, she said, but she wants to help every student feel confident in their post-high school plan — whether it includes college or not. 

Excluding alternative post-high school paths from the data does a disservice not only to school leaders and staff, according to Foudy, but also to students. 

“The (go-on) data, it’s not meaningful for a lot of our students,” said Foudy. “Wood River High School graduated 227 kids this year, and 90% of them are doing something productive with their lives right out of high school, yet our go-on rate, it’s probably going to be around 40%.” 

Sadie Dittenber

Sadie Dittenber

Reporter Sadie Dittenber focuses on K-12 policy and politics. She is a College of Idaho graduate, born and raised in the Treasure Valley. You can follow Sadie on Twitter @sadiedittenber and send her news tips at [email protected].

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