Voices from the Idaho EdNews Community

Many Idaho teens want a break before going to college. I did.

Untangling Education

My wife’s teenage niece shared her thoughts about life after high school on Facebook recently.

The soon-to-be high school grad “might cry” if someone asks her about it again.

I get it. Some teens just need some time. I wasn’t ready to map out my plans at 18, either. Enrolling in college didn’t mean I had to have a master plan, but it felt like that at times. 

Should we expect teens fresh off the podium to have it figured out?

Some do. They dream of being a teacher or an electrician and blow straight through college or trade school. 

But those stories aren’t the norm in Idaho, where 63% of high school grads didn’t continue their education immediately after flinging their caps in 2021. And the number’s been falling for four straight years.

Reader feedback and EdNews stories point to some complicating realities.

  • Concerns about the pandemic and college debt. 
  • A super-hot job market.
  • Church missions. 
  • Military service. 
  • Family businesses. 
  • Startup opportunities. 
  • Skepticism about college and its benefits.

It’s hard to drill down who’s doing what, and why. The State Board of Education’s Chief Research Officer Cathleen McHugh doesn’t know. “We have not done any in-depth analysis,” she told EdNews after the latest decline in go-on rates.

In my part of the state, taking a break is typical for many teens. I went on a church mission after graduating, then sold insurance door-to-door to save money. Then my buddy Chanler, a linebacker at Utah State, twisted my arm.

I signed up for a few classes at the closest state university. 

I was married with a kid by the time I finished, and I worked three more jobs before landing at EdNews. 

It’s not an unusual path, especially in East Idaho, where I live, and where go-on rates can start out slow and increase after young adults complete their missions or other pursuits.

In 2016, a higher percentage of students in East Idaho’s 13 counties had gone on to enroll in college or some other postsecondary program than students from the rest of the state — even though the first-year go-on rate was lower here. It just took longer for people to catch up.

I finished college, but I was counted as no-show in my class’s go-rate those first few years.

And that was just a few years before the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints lowered its mission-age requirement — another complexity with unknown impacts in Idaho.

And, of course, there are other factors at play. Some Idahoans don’t put much value in college at all. 

“Is this necessarily a bad thing?” one Facebook user wrote after news of the most recent decline in first-year rates. “College isn’t the investment it once was.”

Still, others see a degree as the key to success.

“A sad and disappointing situation for sure,” another Facebook reader wrote of last year’s 37% go-on rate.

Whatever your view, the metric is still closely watched in Idaho. College degrees are tied to jobs and income. Jobs and income are tied to the economy and quality of life.

I’d love to know more about your thoughts and experiences on college. Email me at [email protected].

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

EdNews assistant editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He lives and works in East Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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