A brave and bold investment in Idaho’s success

This winter, many high school seniors are weighing their options for college. We know that affordability and return on investment are important considerations. Based on conversations with students, on surveys, and on studies such as our new “Life after High School” report by the James A. and Louise McClure Center for Public Policy Research, we know students are asking “Is college worth it?” while also assessing “Can I afford it?” Those questions are understandable in a state where many students need help paying for college. In response, Idaho higher education institutions must effectively communicate the importance of investing in a college degree and proactively enhance affordability.

For most people, a college degree is the difference for getting a good job that supports a satisfying life. The average UI student sees an increase of $844,200 in lifetime earnings courtesy of their degree, according to a new economic study we commissioned. That financial stability and engagement at work in a well-paying job underpin well-being in numerous areas of life, according to research. The impacts of higher education for society are also critical, as more educated citizens realize better health, lower unemployment and less crime. Investing in higher education, therefore, is a down payment on well-being and prosperity long into the future – for students and for our state.

Last fall the University of Idaho took leadership on a State Board of Education initiative called “Direct Admit,” offering automatic admittance for Idaho’s qualified high school seniors to postsecondary institutions. The message was simple: Your achievement signals an ability to succeed in higher education, so take the next steps for your future by going on to an institution that meets your needs, interests and goals. On behalf of all Idaho higher education institutions, we took that message across the state with an “Enroll Idaho” event that offered information and awareness postsecondary options – any option, not just UI. More than 400 students and 300 families turned out to hear that message.

One concern we heard loud and clear was the cost of college. Many students need help making that investment in their future. Governor Otter’s recent recommendations for state scholarship funding and for a tuition lock are excellent starting points. Any tuition lock this year and in the future would follow up on 2015’s lowest tuition increase in more than a decade at UI, and on an annual institutional investment of more than $24 million in financial aid to help students get to and succeed in college. That aid includes an expansion of our Go Idaho! program for Idaho residents.

But we can do more, and we will. For fall 2016, we are committing $185,000 of aid to our resident transfer scholarship pool. This program will now feature new Bronze-level awards of $1,000 for students with a 3.0 GPA, bolstered support of $2,000 for our Silver level (3.6-3.79 GPA), and the renewal of our $3,000 Gold level (3.8-4.0 GPA) awards. These awards are also guaranteed and renewable with the maintenance of a minimum GPA at UI, and can be combined with need-based aid.

At UI, we have told students that they should go on to college – any institution. That is still our message. Idaho’s motivated students should have an opportunity to unlock their potential through higher education. So now we are also saying: If you need help investing in your future at our university, we will do everything we can to make that possible. One student at a time, we are investing in great lives. We are investing in the future of our Idaho.

Chuck Staben is the president of the University of Idaho.