Idaho: ‘Go-on’ and sign those ballot initiatives

There is some irony in the precarious position the Gem State has found itself in. Despite setting a goal in 2010 for 60 percent of Idaho’s young people under age 34 to attend postsecondary education, the Idaho Legislature then decided the way to encourage young people to attend college is to significantly inflate the tuition costs for those would-be students in the subsequent years that followed.

This objective was coupled with a comedic “Go-On” and “Don’t Fail Idaho” campaign courtesy of Idaho’s Albertson Foundation designed to prod would-be students into higher education despite the increasing costs to attend tethered together with lackluster job prospects in the Gem State to find employment.

And while it appears Idaho’s leaders would rather not acknowledge that the economics courses actually being taught in the Gem State’s universities could have precisely predicted the result of pulling the rug on funding higher education at exactly the same time Idaho’s families were struggling — never mind tuition costs — to simply put food on the table, Idaho’s young citizens do seem to understand those basic behavioral economics.

Dangling red herrings such as 21st century content standards, more school choice, and greater STEM focus as the solutions to Idaho’s lackluster college enrollment misses the crux of the issue in entirety. While these topics are worthwhile discussions in the their own right, they miss the fundamental problem young people are facing.

This discussion need not be that complicated: if Idaho continues to ignore rising tuition costs, textbook costs, lab fees, and student housing then the Gem State should also be equally prepared to expect stagnated postsecondary enrollment and a continued brain drain of our most talented young people for greener pastures outside the state.

The Albertson strategy of admonishing young people into postsecondary attendance is as equally cruel as it is ineffective. Young people living in a state dead last in the nation for wages, a state with exploding tuition costs, and a state with negligible public scholarship opportunities are making a rational economic decision for their future when they decline to enroll in higher education upon graduation.

While our state’s leaders may continue to ballyhoo other reasons for this outcome, Idahoans are becoming increasingly inpatient in addressing the fundamental problem facing high school graduates. As the price of public postsecondary enrollment continues to rise, the value of attendance in our higher education programs continues to decline in the eyes of Idaho’s young people.

The two ballot initiatives currently circulating in our state are evidence that citizens have become disillusioned that their elected leaders actually plan on making any tangible changes to this status quo. The first petition circulated by the group Stop Tuition Hikes has proposed a modest increase on tobacco tax to use the generated revenue in lowering Idaho’s tuition by 22 percent. The second initiative sponsored by Idaho’s League of Women Voters, similarly, seeks to end tax exemptions coupled with reducing the sales tax to generate additional funds for our state’s budget.

And there is a very real chance that one or both of these initiatives will generate the signatures required to get on the ballot; there is an equally real chance Idaho’s voters will happily vote to reduce their sales tax and decrease the cost of sending their children to college if they are given the opportunity to vote on such a measure.

If Idaho’s leaders and the Albertson Foundation are truly interested in improving the rate of postsecondary enrollment, I wholeheartedly expect to see them give us the gift of gushing endorsements on both ballot initiatives. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Levi B Cavener is a special education teacher in Caldwell. He also manages the education blog IdahosPromise.Org.