Last year, the Idaho Legislature overwhelmingly supported a concurrent resolution recognizing the importance of the goal that at least 60 percent of Idahoans between the ages of 25 and 34 have a college degree or postsecondary certificate by 2020.
Now we need to ensure that was more than a hopeful suggestion.
Making meaningful progress toward that goal as quickly as possible is an economic imperative for our state. When I meet with existing Idaho businesses or companies looking to relocate or start or expand a business in Idaho, their top priority is having access to a skilled workforce.
I believe that ensuring business and industry can grow and prosper requires a multifaceted approach to reaching our educational attainment goal. That includes supporting and investing in our K-12 education system to ensure students leave high school prepared for college and career opportunities, and that more of our high school graduates go on to college or career technical programs.
But investing in only one part of the pipeline isn’t enough. We must support higher education as well and do more to meet immediate workforce needs by bringing Idahoans with some college but no degree back to class to complete a certificate or degree.
According to the latest American Community Survey conducted by the Census Bureau, 28 percent of Idaho citizens have some college but no degree. The high school graduating class of 2005 provides a useful snapshot of that population. According to a report from the State Board of Education, we know that only 50 percent of the students from that class went on to college within 12 months of graduating. By 2015, 27 percent of those students had dropped out and only 6 percent of those who dropped out had returned to finish up.
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Now those students are roughly 28 years old. They are part of the age group that drives our economy and will continue to do so for the next 30 to 40 years. We must reach those individuals to help move the needle on our postsecondary goal and make significant inroads toward addressing Idaho’s critical workforce needs.
Once again this year, I have asked the Legislature for $3 million to fund a scholarship to support individuals seeking to improve their job skills and future employability by finishing a certificate or degree. The scholarship program in House Bill 190 would provide Idahoans with financial help to attend an Idaho higher education institution on a part-time basis with an award of up to $3,000 per year for up to four years.
This legislation is about investing in Idaho’s people and our economy. Beyond helping to provide the more skilled and educated workforce that our employers need, the return on this investment will be what it does for so many individual Idahoans who are striving for a better future.
Written by Butch Otter, governor of Idaho.