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EDITORIAL: 3, 2, 1… It's lift-off for graduates

| June 26, 2024 1:00 AM

Only time will tell if Idaho Launch is a successful educational moon shot or a $70.8 million dud that sputters and wobbles before splashing down in some shocked farmer’s pond.

It’s an expensive experiment well worth the risk in an ongoing attempt to eventually connect more of our high school graduates to jobs that are in demand across the Gem State.

Idaho Launch was created by the 2023 Idaho Legislature and funded — over plenty of blood, sweat and tears — during this year’s session. It sets aside $8,000 for at least 9,250 of the 13,000 students who met the April 15 application deadline. That’s almost half of the 21,000 Idaho high school seniors who recently were handed their diplomas and are now preparing for college.

Keeping in mind that the mission is to beef up Idaho’s poor go-on rate for high school grads — it was 43% in 2023 — by pointing Launch recipients toward in-demand jobs, the first year will likely not provide enough evidence to pronounce the program a success or failure. 

Whether a more conservative 2025 Legislature would continue funding no matter what early returns suggest is a battle for another day. For now, thousands of our high school grads will head to Idaho colleges this fall fueled at least in part by these $8,000 investment packages from taxpayers.

According to data published in an excellent article by Kevin Richert of IdahoEdNews.org, here are the 12 leading postsecondary programs for the students who received the earliest Launch offers:

• Nursing: 827

• Business administration/management/commerce: 708

• Engineering: 683

• Teaching: 631

• Health care technician: 533

• Information technology: 392

• Automotive technician: 378

• Welding: 337

• Cosmetology: 335

• Construction trades: 290

• Engineering technician: 139

• Animal sciences, general: 130

Some legislators were hoping for heavier interest in career-technical training, which might happen if the program becomes more firmly established and better known by students. That’s certainly a big “if,” and again, time will fill in a lot of the blanks that always come with first-time programs.

But hope runs high at this early juncture. Because Idaho Launch recipients must pursue studies aligned with 242 in-demand careers, this could further bolster the state’s already strong economy and help it survive inevitable downturns.

Meantime, a successful Idaho Launch program will improve residents’ ability to meet housing’s high costs, better satisfy consumers’ appetite for products and services where demand now exceeds supply, and much more.

It’s a bold lift-off with a promising payload and should be given sufficient time to determine its real effects despite ideological headwinds.