Five years ago, the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation launched an effort to interest more students in post-high school education.
The Boise foundation started “Go On” and backed it with $11 million in scholarships and grants of up to $40,000 each to a handful of mostly small rural middle and high schools.
Today, foundation leaders are considering how they can be more effective.
When the foundation started the campaign in 2009 — with ads reminding students that “high school is not enough” — Idaho ranked 43 in the nation in the percentage of students who go onto post secondary education.
Five years later, the state is in last place.
“You can look at the initiatives over the past five years and you can look at the awareness campaign and you can look at the data that has actually shown we are getting worse in our go-on rate,” foundation President Jamie MacMillan said. “Is that working? Well obviously not.”
A better-educated workforce will be required to meet job demands in Idaho, according to national studies. Concerns about Idaho’s workforce has led the state to set a goal that 60 percent of Idahoans from 25 to 34 years old have post-secondary education by 2020.
So, this summer, challenged by Idaho’s dismal slide, the foundation will crunch data, revisit programs and analyze market studies to see how it can improve its initiative beginning in fall.
• Refining the message and better targeting it to seventh through 12th graders, the audience the Albertson Foundation wants to reach.
• Enlisting more community support to encourage high school students to get post secondary training.
• Making more room in their message for students to investigate the trades — plumbing, carpentry, electricity — to meet a growing shortage in those jobs as Idaho and the Treasure Valley come out of the recession.
The foundation hasn’t decided how much money it will put into the latest effort.
Missing the message
In spring, the foundation sent teams across the state to talk with students about the Go On campaign. They learned many students were misreading the foundation’s intent. Those students believed the foundation was pushing a four-year college education, something many of them either weren’t interested in or couldn’t afford.
Many thought they were left with a choice of working as a fast-food employee or going to a traditional college, foundation spokeswoman Jennie Sue Weltner said.
So, the foundation is looking to rebrand its message with a new slogan: One, two, four or more.
Students should seek post-high school education in any of a variety of ways, from trade schools and community colleges to traditional colleges and universities, said MacMillan, who is the great-granddaughter of Albertsons founder Joe Albertson.
The slogan, one, two, four or more, “feels like (it is) embracing and scaling the strategies … that we’ve been deploying and funding for the past five years,” she said.
Go On has achieved some successes.
In schools such as Homedale High School, with 380 students, Go On rates have shown marked improvement since the school received a $40,000 foundation grant.
School counselor Debbie Flaming used grant money to buy updated textbooks and hire an instructor to lead students through their required senior project, in which students research a topic, do community work and make a presentation.
The instructor also emphasizes post-secondary education.
“It’s more than just what do you want to be when you grow up,” Flaming said.
In 2012, 49 percent of Homedale High’s graduating seniors went onto education after high school, matching the statewide average.
In 2013, Homedale’s rate rose to 55 percent, while the state’s dropped to 46 percent.
For 2014, Homedale estimates that about 90 percent of seniors will pursue post-secondary education.
Throughout Homedale’s efforts the school has urged students to think about more than just a four-year college, and to consider community colleges and tech schools.
In the class of 2014, 40 percent of those going on plan to attend two-year schools, and 46 percent plan to attend four-year schools, Flaming said.
“We’ve had the most success out of the smaller, more rural schools,” MacMillan said. “Plus they are more nimble.”
Going kid to kid
The Albertson Foundation also is thinking about retooling how it delivers its message to students.
TV ads, billboard and public service announcements — traditional ways the foundation has sought to put its message out — are not where young people get their information, said Weltner. So, the foundation is looking at “a very youth-driven strategy which is sort of for the kids, by the kids,” MacMillan said.
Foundation leaders already are working with a program called Strive that pairs college students with high school students, showing them how to navigate the complex world of getting into college. A handful of English students at Boise State University spent last year working as college mentors with students at the high school in Horseshoe Bend.
Also in the works is Idaho P-TECH Network, a version of a program started in 2011 as “Pathways in Technology Early College High School,” that connects industry leaders with high school and college students.
The program would guide students along career and college paths while still in high school.
Idaho P-TECH could alter the curriculum, turning a high school speech class into a Communications 101 class that would earn students college credit. Business professionals would work with students, providing internships and promise students job interviews when they complete their education.
“One of the things we have found is this is very much a community effort,” MacMillan said.
Pushing the trades
Trade leaders hungry for workers are asking the foundation to help them encourage students to consider careers in their fields.
Dan Ediger and Kenny Anderson, of Boise-based Ediger Plumbing, said they need more apprentices as their business in plumbing custom homes and light commercial buildings picks up. Finding and keeping apprentices is difficult.
“They don’t look at it as a valid career,” Anderson said.
Ediger runs two crews, each of which pairs a journeyman and an apprentice. The company has enough business for four.
“We are literally working 10 to 11 hours a day,” Ediger said.
Wayne Hammon, executive director of Idaho Associated General Contractors, said contractors are experiencing the same problem with a variety of specialized workers, including framers, painters, heating and air conditioning workers and carpenters.
Hammon is developing a website for the trades, including where and how to get trained. He wants the foundation to help spread the word about it.
“No one wants a job,” Hammon said. “They want a career.”
But those who start in the building trades — and stick with them — can earn salaries of $40,000 to $60,000 a year, Ediger said.