In light of college application season, this guest post from Matt Freeman, executive director of the Idaho State Board of Education, highlights several programs in Idaho focused on increasing college applications and, ultimately, degrees and professional certificates.
In 2010, the Idaho State Board of Education set an ambitious goal that 60 percent of Idaho’s 25-to-34-year-olds hold either a college degree or professional certificate. At the time, Idaho was at 37 percent. Today, that figure is about 42 percent. While the gap between the goal and the current educational attainment levels remains stubbornly wide, the board attributes progress made to a handful of programs encouraging high school seniors to explore postsecondary opportunities after they graduate.
Here’s a brief description of each:
Advanced Opportunities. In 2017-18, more than 32,000 junior high and high school students took college-level dual credit classes or Advanced Placement classes through the Advanced Opportunities program. In 2016, the state legislature authorized up to $4,125 to cover the cost for each public school student to take dual credit, AP and overload courses (e.g., summer school) beginning in the seventh grade. The number of students taking dual credits courses has increased 170 percent over five years, and the number of credit hours taken has increased 163 percent over that same time period.
NextSteps.Idaho.gov. In collaboration with partnering agencies, community leaders, educators and policymakers, the board developed NextSteps.Idaho.gov for eighth-through-12th-grade students. It provides a wide range of age-appropriate information in one easy-to-access place. The site has since become a leading resource for Idaho students, parents and educators. Notably, the Utah system of Higher Education Commissioner’s Office used the Next Steps Idaho template for a similar website.
Direct Admissions. Letters are mailed out in September to approximately 22,000 high school seniors, notifying them they have been accepted — depending on their academic performance — either to all eight of Idaho’s public colleges and universities or to six community colleges and technical programs. Students then apply to their institutions(s) of choice online, free of charge through Apply Idaho on the NextSteps.idaho.gov website. A follow-up letter is sent to parents in November as a reminder. Last year, 9,000 seniors used Apply Idaho to submit their applications to an average of 2.5 institutions each.
College Application Week. Last year, about half of all high school seniors at 81 high schools in Idaho participated in College Application Week, where students are given time during the school day to apply to college. Those seniors submitted 15,400 applications, a 15 percent increase over the prior year.
FAFSA Completion Portal. The Idaho FAFSA Completion Project provides public-facing data at the school district level on student progress in completing and submitting the FAFSA form. School counselors have secure access to student-level data for their respective schools. They can also view which Direct Admissions letter was received and whether a student has applied through Apply Idaho.
Opportunity Scholarship for Adult Learners. In 2018, legislation passed enabling the board to make Idaho’s Opportunity Scholarship available to adults interested in returning to college to complete a degree or certificate. Thousands of Idaho students have used the Opportunity Scholarship to further their education. The Adult Learner scholarship serves a new student demographic and will hopefully build further on the momentum toward achieving Idaho’s 60 percent goal.