Summer is coming to a close, high school graduates are starting their post-secondary journeys, and Idaho received yet another reminder of one of our biggest challenges: only half of Idaho’s class of 2014 enrolled in post-secondary education. While the news is unsettling, initiatives brewing in Idaho give us hope that the state’s education stakeholders are still making headway in solving this vexing challenge.
It’s no secret that Idaho’s educators, education stakeholders, and higher-ed advocates are laser-focused on increasing our postsecondary enrollment rates. However, we’re learning that the best results come when we engage stakeholders across sectors, disciplines, and areas of expertise. Research commissioned by the State Board of Education last year confirmed this growing sentiment: students need to hear the go-on message from every corner of their communities, and they (and their parents) need positive, actionable advice about how exactly to “go on.” Raising Idaho’s go-on rate hinges on educators, policymakers, nonprofits, businesses, and families creatively joining forces to shoulder the weight of Idaho’s go-on problem and create a college-going culture.
The exciting news is that several new projects in Idaho are doing just that. The City of Caldwell received national recognition for their program, Caldwell Saves 1st, which provides an Idaho 529 College Savings Program (IDeal) account with up to $50 of community-raised matching money to Caldwell first graders if their parents agree to attend financial literacy classes, taught by community volunteers.
Similarly, the College of Western Idaho announced a new scholarship, CWIDeal Boost, through which they will provide matching scholarships to help cover tuition and fees to qualifying students who use an IDeal College Savings account to pay for college. CWI envisions a future where local stakeholders (including businesses) help fund a growing program. A 2010 study from Washington University in St. Louis shows students with a college savings account are 4-7 times more likely to attend and graduate from college. The message of both programs is that the community is willing to invest in the success of families who themselves invest in post-secondary education and, frankly, have skin in the game.
Finally, the formation of the Educate Idaho Network will bring more voices and resources to the conversation. The Educate Idaho Network is a statewide collaboration of business, policy, community, and education interests. Additionally, the State Board of Education invested College Access Challenge Grant funds to create a new website, Next Steps Idaho, which will serve as the state’s hub of college access information and help students and families navigate the process of going on to college and other post-secondary training programs.
On September 1, the Educate Idaho Network is convening a statewide summit in Boise, where we will innovate, collaborate, share best practices, and facilitate critical regional partnerships as we work toward the goal of getting 60 percent of our high school graduates to obtain a post-secondary degree or certificate.
Idaho’s education stakeholders are fostering new partnerships to build a college-going culture, approaching this challenge from many different angles and perspectives. Our shared responsibility as investors and stakeholders in Idaho’s future requires creative solutions and approaches. Idaho’s educational success of tomorrow depends on how we work in partnership today, and I, for one, am excited at the potential our collective impact has to offer.
Christie Stoll is the Executive Director of IDeal (Idaho 529 College Savings Program) and the co-chair of the Educate Idaho Network. For more information about IDeal visit www.idsaves.org.