Why we must try, try, try again to pass ‘adult completer’ scholarship

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.” Fittingly, it was an educational writer (William Edward Hickson) who popularized this old proverb. The sentiment has a dual meaning when it comes to one of the recommendations of the governor’s Higher Education Task Force: the so-called “Adult Completer” scholarship.

It is intended for students who attended college for a while, moved on to other things prior to graduating, and want another shot at a degree. For state lawmakers, it means we will try to succeed in 2018 where we failed the last two sessions. Perhaps the third time will be the charm.

Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking

The State Board of Education recently approved all of the Task Force’s recommendations. However, board members noted that the “Adult Completer” scholarship proposal may need some revamping in order to get through the legislature next year. The scholarship is aimed at adults who have already earned some college credits but have been out of school for several years. According to a report in Idaho Education News earlier this year, about 28 percent of Idahoans over age 25 have some college credits, but left school before receiving a degree.

The “Adult Completer” idea first surfaced in 2016 when legislation was proposed to earmark $5 million in scholarships to those with at least 30 credits who had been out of school for at least three years. The measure, which I voted for, failed in the Senate 16-17 (two of my colleagues were absent for that vote). In 2017, a similar $3 million bill died in committee. It would have provided scholarships to eligible applicants of up to $3,000 per year for up to four years. Critics of the “Adult Completer” scholarship claim it rewards people for dropping out of school.

I seriously doubt students who have completed the equivalent of one year of college have it in their minds to drop out of school and then wait three years in hopes of qualifying for a scholarship. Students dropping out of college is not unique to Idaho. According to a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States has the highest drop-out rate in the industrial world.

Students drop out of college for all kinds of reasons. However, just about every study shows that the main factor is the cost. There is also the issue of balancing school with a job. According to a 2013 U.S. Census report, a whopping 71-percent of America’s undergraduate students work. One in five of those students clock in 35 hours a week year-round. Balancing that kind of work load with school is tough for any adult, let alone a teenager who is attending college for the first time. It’s easy to see how handling a job, classes, studying and tests would be overwhelming to new students. Also, we were all eighteen once. It’s safe to say that our decision-making skills were not as prudent at that age as they were in our mid to late 20’s.

Adjusting to college life – with all of its new challenges and experiences – can be overwhelming for many young students. Sometimes, they need a few years to mature before they can tackle college and see it through to the end. The Higher Education Task Force has a simple goal: to improve the percentage of Idaho’s high school students who go on to college or a post-secondary program. Right now, the state’s “go-on” rate is less than 50-percent – among the worst in the nation. If that dismal percentage does not improve, Idaho will continue to be a magnet for low-wage, low-skilled jobs.

As a lifetime educator, I can’t accept that state of affairs. There is no silver-bullet solution to this problem. We have to take a holistic approach. The “Adult Completer” scholarship provides opportunity for older, more experienced students who may have been in over their heads the first time around. Idahoans are hard-working people who want to prosper and provide opportunities for their families. I believe the “Adult Completer” scholarship program can help provide these opportunities. That’s why we legislators must “try, try, try again” to pass this legislation.

Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking represents District 18 in the Idaho State Senate and is currently in her third term. She was an educator for 33 years.

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