While recent trends have suggested an improvement in college attainment among Idaho students, national data suggests the Gem State continues to struggle with getting people into higher education.
Idaho’s educational attainment, measured in terms of the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds who have received at least a college certificate, ranks among the nation’s worst and well below the national average, according to data by the Lumina Foundation — an independent, private foundation that is “committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all.”
The Lumina Foundation report found that only 40.7 percent of Idaho’s population has some form of college education. The State Board of Education wants the percentage to be 60 percent.
In a guest commentary, Rod Gramer, the president and CEO of Idaho Business for Education, noted that the state’s percentage of working adults who hold a postsecondary credential is lower than all states except Alabama, Nevada and West Virginia. By comparison, Utah has 52 percent of workers holding a credential, he wrote.
From a county perspective, Madison County (second at 56 percent) and Teton County (third at 52 percent) held some of the highest attainment rates in the state. Bonneville County ranked seventh (41 percent) lagging behind Ada (49 percent), Blaine (46 percent) and Boise (42 percent). Bonneville County ranked higher than Bannock (38 percent), Jefferson (38 percent), Twin Falls (33 percent), Fremont (31 percent), Lemhi (31 percent) and Bingham (30 percent).
The national average is 47.6 percent, the Lumina Foundation report said.
Dana Kirkham, CEO of Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho, said the data is concerning due to an increase in tech and science-based jobs coming to eastern Idaho.
“It’s concerning because we look at the growth we’re seeing in eastern Idaho, with new jobs in tech and artificial intelligence, and most of those jobs require a bachelor’s degree or higher,” Kirkham said. “It’s a concern because clearly we don’t have an existing workforce that meets the demand.”
Kirkham noted culture stigmas and students relocating after graduation as problems for Idaho’s workforce. Despite a solid high school graduation rate, Kirkham said she is worried about the rising tech jobs being outsourced to workers from different parts of the country rather than local workers.
College of Eastern Idaho Communication and Marketing Director Todd Wightman said many students go to college in Utah and never return.
“We have to recognize we have a deficit,” Kirkham said. “It’s about talent.”
The data found that only 230,185 of people living in Idaho have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
And although Idaho’s overall rate of educational attainment has increased by 5.9 percentage points since 2008, 27.6 percent of all Idaho residents aged 25 to 64 only had a high school diploma.
“There’s a lot of people who are educated, but they leave,” Wightman said. “I would love to have my kids stick around, but they found better opportunity. It’s always been a fight here in Idaho, to encourage people to go to college.”