Idaho’s college “go-on rate” continues its pandemic plunge.
In 2021, only 37% of the state’s high school graduates went straight to college, down another 2 percentage points from the previous year.
In 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic, the go-on rate stood at 46%.
This year’s go-on rate is the lowest since at least 2014, according to State Board of Education data.
The go-on rate has become one of the state’s most high-profile education metrics — as Idaho wrestles with chronically low college enrollment and graduation rates.
The rate has been dropping for the past four years, and it fell most precipitously in 2020, at the outset of the pandemic. State Board of Education officials aren’t exactly sure what happened this fall.
“We have not done any in-depth analysis on the cause of the decrease,” State Board Chief Research Officer Cathleen McHugh said Tuesday.
This year’s dropoff could be the result of a superheated labor market, with high school graduates choosing a job over college. Or it could reflect lingering pandemic issues — with prospective students sitting out because of health concerns, or because they’re worried that their college could close its campus or shift to online instruction.
Or the causes could be more complex.
In 2020, economically disadvantaged students opted out of college; their go-on rate fell by 4 percentage points. But for students who were not economically disadvantaged, the dropoff was 10 percentage points — suggesting these students took a gap year because they could afford to do so.
Regardless of the cause, the 2021 dropoff isn’t a surprise.
Idaho college enrollment increased last fall, nearing pre-pandemic levels. But this rebound generally came from a robust, outsized increase in out-of-state enrollment — and not because of a spike in in-state enrollment.
The fall go-on rate is a snapshot, and an incomplete picture. It measures only the number of students who head straight to college after high school — and doesn’t account for students who serve a church mission, enter the military or take a job to earn money for college.
For the high school class of 2018, the three-year go-on rate came in at 60%.
But that represents a dropoff as well. For the four preceding years, this rate had hovered between 63% and 64%.
The declining numbers represent another setback in Idaho’s long go-on battle.
For years, business, education and political leaders have looked for ways to encourage high school graduates to continue their education.
The Legislature has responded by pouring tens of millions of dollars into a menu of taxpayer-funded programs designed to encourage young adults to stay in school: merit- and need-based college scholarships; college-level dual-credit courses for high school students; college and career counselors; and free “SAT Day” in Idaho high schools.
The 2022 Legislature will consider putting about $20 million into the college Opportunity Scholarship, and $33 million for the advanced opportunities program that covers high school students’ dual-credit courses.
Gov. Brad Little and state superintendent Sherri Ybarra did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.