Idaho Falls businesses step in to educate families on college and career paths

Idaho businesses are banning together to help more students prepare for life after high school. 

Idaho Business for Education launched a pilot program in Idaho Falls last year that educates parents on how to navigate possible career or college paths for their children. The program, called Within Reach, offers free learning sessions for Idaho Falls parents, emphasizing student exploration from kindergarten through high school.

The pilot course aims to arm parents with an essential knowledge of the postsecondary landscape in order to improve Idaho’s 37% go-on rate. 

Idaho Falls mom Bianca Chavez did not come from a college-going household and so carved her own career path. She’s attending Within Reach sessions to help her two children, specifically her third grade son who struggles in the classroom.

“He’s really smart, but gets bored really quickly,” Chavez told EdNews. “That scared me a lot. How is this going to go in middle school/high school? This opens up a window into the things he’s good at. (Within Reach) gives you insight.”

Chavez is a human resources assistant at Idaho Steel in Idaho Falls. Chavez said she’s learning about the many options and scholarships available to her children that were not available when she was in high school.

Bianca Sanchez (in plaid) attends a Lunch & Learn session at Idaho Steel
Bianca Sanchez (in plaid) attends a Lunch & Learn session at Idaho Steel.

“It was like, if you don’t have money, you can’t go to college. There was lots of uncertainty. It felt so complicated,” Chavez said. “Now, I feel relieved. We’ll figure it out.”

IBE launched the Within Reach pilot initiative in September 2022 in concert with the City of Idaho Falls and local businesses Idaho Steel, the Hartwell Corporation and the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.

Program leaders presented to parents at their places of work during quarterly “Lunch & Learn sessions.”

“Any time you have your school district, parents, leaders and others focused on how to posture Idaho students for success in education and in life, that’s where the magic happens,” said IBE vice president Robert Sanchez.

IBE’s 250 business leaders are committed to uplifting Idaho’s education system, and to ensuring their own future with a cadre of highly-qualified workers. Within Reach, one of the pillars of this mission, teams local schools, prominent employers and education leaders with parents and students to provide necessary direction and to answer the question: Why are you/your children in school in the first place?

“Within Reach provides a framework for those conversations,” said Margaret Wimborne, Idaho Falls director of communications and community outreach. “It’s important for parents and students to know that there’s lot of different opportunities out there and a whole host of different career pathways for students to connect with and be passionate about.”

A college degree can be a means for earning more money. Bachelor’s degree holders make $36,000 more or 84% higher wages than those whose highest degree is a high school diploma, according to the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities research.

Via Within Reach, IBE is doing its part to fill an “education gap” that could soon leave many of its business partners short of skilled employees. IBE asserts that by 2025, the Gem State will need least 60% of its 25- to 34-year-old workers to qualify as crucial, well-paid cogs in its labor market. Right now, that number is hovering at only about 44%.

“This is the first year in more than a decade that we have no one enrolled for August to take advantage of our scholarship or apprenticeship program,” said Heidi Oyola, director of human resources at Idaho Steel.

Within Reach presenters set up shop at Idaho Steel, the Hartwell Corporation and other partner business locales. This made attendance convenient for parents already at work. Theme-based “Lunch & Learn” sessions happen quarterly. Topics included the importance of postsecondary education, career and college exploration and the several paths to many career possibilities.

A Within Reach Lunch & Learn session.
A Within Reach Lunch & Learn session.

This was true for Zerin Buchanan, director of learning at the Hartwell Corporation, and his four kids, ages 10 to 18. Buchanan’s two eldest children were already in the Advanced Opportunities program when he was introduced to Within Reach. (Advanced Opportunities provides $4,215 for grade 7-12 Idaho students to explore educational and career pathways after high school.)

“Within Reach opened my eyes to other tools besides just the dual credit courses offered in Advanced Opportunities that might fit my younger kids’ situations better,” said Buchanan. “Specifically, we learned about opportunities outside of the traditional four-year degree such as technical certificates, etc.”

Guest presenters provided handouts, learning materials and access to a variety of online resources. These materials still live online within the Idaho Falls web files for any interested parent or student.

“People are the most important part of this cooperation,” Sanchez said. “It’s a way to invest in the family, have a huge impact on schooling and retention in the workforce.”

The next steps for this “one-stop shop for parents” is to move beyond Idaho Falls to bring Within Reach to more Idaho towns and regions.

Matt Denis

Matt Denis

Reporter Matt Denis is based in the Treasure Valley and has served as an educator and a journalist. Prior to national digital reporting and founding an arts and culture section in Eugene, Oregon, Matt worked as an English and history teacher in Detroit, San Diego, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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