Idaho continues, like many states, to search for quick fixes for its underpaid workforce who cannot or do not go on to college. One such quick fix is the use of technology, specifically the Idaho Education Network (IEN). The IEN provides online instruction and digital connectivity through broadband, particularly useful in remote locations. This network affects higher education because it supports concurrent enrollment and “college-ready” secondary instruction. The IEN also offers some secondary curricula, like AP classes, and can serve as a general source of connectivity for a community. Recently IEN contracts for broadband and digital delivery were declared void by federal courts, resulting in withdrawal of federal support and chaotic state efforts to restore the system in the short-term.
While Idaho boasts a high secondary graduate rate, we ranked last in the nation in the continuation to college rate directly after high school (2010), and very low on those who return to college a second year and graduate within six years. This problem is, in my view, intimately related to wages and the health of the economy; Idaho has the second highest percentage of minimum wage workers in the country.
The challenge of making college a realistic and affordable goal has resulted in media campaigns which encourage students to go on to college, but some recent efforts are failing. For example, Go On Idaho has not been successful, and college enrollment numbers were trending downward in July 2014. The newest form of this campaign is Don’t Fail Idaho. Related to these efforts is the Complete College Idaho initiative, an offshoot of Complete College America. This initiative, adopted by the Idaho State Board of Education several years ago, continues to be influential with its goal “that 60% of Idahoans ages 25-34 will have a degree or certificate by 2020,” a date only five years away. In my view, until Idaho increases the minimum wage and offers people a real way to support themselves through meaningful work, these efforts will fail.
In addition to low college enrollment, those who do attend may be viewed as under-prepared. According to 2012 data from Complete College America, many students need remediation on entry. Legislators, searching for solutions to both college attendance and college readiness, created the Idaho Education Network (IEN) a few years ago. This network supports concurrent enrollment and “college-ready” secondary instruction, which might address the problems of getting students motivated for college and prepared to do well. However, the IEN effort is fraught with difficulties. The original contract was declared void by federal courts, and federal funds, which paid for 75% of the project, have been withdrawn. The current provider, who has not been paid all year, threatened to shut down the system if not paid. Recently the state moved oversight of the IEN contract from the Department of Administration to the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and school districts quickly had to locate alternative internet providers as a short-term solution.