MY TURN: The Idaho Legislature should invest directly in Idaho students
On Sept. 1, the Idaho State Legislature wisely set aside $410 million in a lockbox for education. Of these funds, $80 million was specifically earmarked to help educate students enrolled in post-secondary education. These funds represent the Idaho Legislature’s best chance for being able to directly support and improve access to post-secondary education for thousands of students across the Gem State. The duty to see this task through to the end now rests with the incoming 67th Legislature, as it will be up to them to determine the specifics of how these precious tax dollars should be allocated to do the most good.
My colleagues and I would propose an idea to provide these funds directly to qualifying Idaho resident students seeking to enroll in an Idaho institution of higher education. As resident Idahoans, products of Idaho public education, and now the elected student body presidents at Idaho’s accredited post-secondary institutions, we believe it is time for the Legislature to invest directly in Idaho students through an expanded in-state scholarship program. Across our great state, there are thousands of students who plan on furthering their education following high school but do not always have the financial means to do so themselves.
Unfortunately, the cost of higher education continues to outpace our wage growth and excessive national inflation. Idaho high school graduates are too often placed in the difficult position of either accepting more money from an out-of-state institution or rolling the dice on taking out federal student loans to continue their education.
These students recognize that in many instances they can be financially rewarded more for their educational achievements by crossing state lines than at their own hometown school. Many never return to Idaho. This was the personal experience that I and many of my colleagues had, despite wishing to attend an Idaho institution. This is wrong. Our tax-dollar-funded higher education institutions do not seem focused enough on the importance of keeping Idaho students in Idaho, as they actively market for more and more out-of-state students. We believe we have a historic opportunity to help change this tide.
With the economic growth and demand by Idaho industries, now more than ever we can’t afford for our students to leave Idaho. We will continue to require more individuals with some manner of post-secondary education to meet the needs of our increasing job market. As such, we as a state should take immediate steps to incentivize our Idaho high school graduates to stay in Idaho to advance their education.
We have an immediate need for not only traditional four-year college graduates but also community colleges and trade school graduates. We need skilled labor with technical education and training in welding, plumbing, electrical, and other job-specific certificates. Resident high school students must be recognized and incentivized far more than they currently are with meaningful scholarship opportunities that will encourage them to stay in Idaho. Many states provide free tuition to in-state students so they can attend some form of post-secondary education — we are not asking for that. Idaho must do more to encourage students to continue learning after high school. In 2021, only 37% of Idaho’s high school graduates went straight into post-secondary education. Idaho’s go-on rate has fallen for four consecutive years and is now barely half the national average. This is unacceptable in our modern age. Idaho’s go-on rate needs help to further encourage and promote our students to attain their higher education goals right here in Idaho.
Idaho is at a crossroads. We are blessed at the moment with a historic surplus and the rare opportunity to take a bold step to help improve the lives of future generations of Idahoans. This is the time to redirect our focus on Idaho’s students. A statewide scholarship program will not only benefit Idaho students, but will help to keep our economy growing and competitive for the next generation. It is time to keep Idaho’s future in Idaho.
• • •
Adam N. Jones, Student Body President, Boise State University
Tanner McClain, Student Body President, University of Idaho
Caden Massey, Student Body President, Lewis-Clark State College
Flora Koenig, Student Body President, College of Western Idaho