BOISE - Idaho's college graduation rate is not where Gov. Butch Otter and many lawmakers want it to be.
So the governor created a task force made up of legislators, business leaders and education experts to tackle the issue. They were tasked with identifying changes that need to be made in higher education in Idaho.
That group wrapped up work on Friday and is coming out of its final meeting with several proposals for improving the system. The group is not just focusing on traditional college degrees; they're pushing toward the "one, two, four or more" goal, meaning a professional career technical certificate, associate degree, bachelor's degree, or higher.
Over the past several months, this task force worked to figure out what might be lacking in Idaho's post-secondary education and how the state can play a role in improving it. This group is a natural extension of the governor's K-12 task force, and is creating a road map for the future.
"Everybody kept the big purpose in mind and what's best for the state and citizens of the state," Co-chair of the Governor's Task Force on Higher Education and former White Cloud Analytics CEO Bob Lokken said.
Putting diverse minds together - from different backgrounds, with different experiences - all for the same end goal: getting young Idahoans prepared for the current and future job market.
"We have a big gap to cover," Lokken added.
This 36-member group split off into five sub-committees, each tackling specific challenges.
One of those challenges being the K through 20 pipeline system.
"Making sure students have the sense that they need to go on for some additional training, that high school is not going to be enough," task force member and Idaho State Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking (D-Boise) said.
That working group looked at things like early learning, involving career counselors at an earlier age, and making dual credit courses in high school more rigorous in order to ensure the credits are accepted as general requirements.
Another group tackled changing the current funding model.
"We had to find a sustainable source and method of funding that would be, a) transparent, b) accountable," four-year institution representative on the task force, Josh Scholer, told KTVB. "We passed a recommendation that said, this is the direction the state should go in in support of an outcomes-based funding model."
A separate group confronted access and affordability.
"That group looked at how do we make sure every Idahoan, regardless of where they live or what their circumstance is, has access to higher education," Co-chair of the Governor's Task Force on Higher Education and Idaho State Board of Education President Dr. Linda Clark said.
Work force development and outcomes was another group's focus, merging industry and education.
"The economy is strong. But we need employees that have the right training so we can recruit great companies and we can keep great companies already here in Idaho, in Idaho," task force member and Idaho State Sen. Bob Nonini (R-Coeur d'Alene) said, "and we hear from these companies that they're having a hard time finding the right kind of employees."
"That shortage of an educated workforce to fill these new and emerging jobs has spread from industry to industry," Lokken added. "It's no longer just high tech."
Task force members say Idaho needs to look at funding higher education as a high return on investment.
"If that return on investment is a greater economy in Idaho, that will benefit everybody in Idaho," Sen. Nonini added.
A separate group looked at communication and expectations.
"Part of this is going to be about having a fact-based discussion with the Legislature and with the citizens of the state," Lokken said.
For the past seven years, state officials have been trying to get 60 percent of Idaho's young adults touting a post-secondary degree or certificate by 2020.
"Sixty percent of the jobs we're creating require that level of education. So if we don't have that then people have trouble getting a job to support their family, businesses have trouble growing, and the state's economy suffers tremendously," Lokken added.
That 60 percent goal has not panned out. We reported earlier this year that only 40 percent of Idahoans ages 25 to 34 have finished post-secondary education, whether that be professional career technical certificates, associate degrees, or bachelor's degrees.
"We've made some progress, but minimal," Dr. Clark added. "we were looking at a lot of different things that might not cost the state a great deal more money but would be really beneficial to our students
So the task force is attempting to set a new goal, and hoping to push that deadline to 2025.
"We need to do better," Sen. Ward-Engelking said. "We were looking at a lot of different things that might not cost the state a great deal more money, but would be really beneficial to our students."
All recommendations from the different working groups were passed unanimously on Friday.
"Like the K-12 [Task Force], we will have to stretch them out and say what can we attack in terms of resources that are available, what will the price tag be?" Dr. Clark told KTVB. "There's a lot more work that has to be done. Really, the hard work begins now."
The Idaho State Board of Education will make a final report on the recommendations approved on Friday and will then send them to the governor at the end of the month. Once Gov. Otter reviews them, Dr. Clark says technical committees will probably form to work on specific plans for making the recommendations a reality.