UI prez pays visit to area

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SANDPOINT — University of Idaho president Chuck Staben said the most important thing is for qualified Idaho students to go on to postsecondary education.

"The second most important thing is that they go on in Idaho, and the third most important thing is that they go to the University of Idaho," Staben said.

He may be a little biased, though. 

"I really do want them to go to the University of Idaho," he added.

Staben was in town Wednesday to meet with Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad to begin a dialogue on the UI property on Boyer Avenue. The property used to house a UI agriculture extension station until about 10 years ago, he said, and currently is used by residents for different activities such as cross-country skiing. He said nothing has been decided since it is early in the discussion, but there is a common interest between UI and Sandpoint city officials in ensuring the property is used effectively.

While in Sandpoint, Staben, accompanied by UI director of communications Jodi Walker, originally planned to meet with the group of Sandpoint High School students who recently gave a presentation to Lake Pend Oreille School District trustees about the rates of students from Sandpoint who go on to college. The group was out of town this week, but Staben said he plans to return later in the month to continue that conversation as well.

"That is a major interest of mine, is how we change to college-going culture of Idaho," Staben said. "And the students identified some of the same factors that we've identified as being problematic."

The rate of progression from high school to college in Idaho is one of the lowest in the nation — about 46 percent of students proceed to post-secondary education within 16 months of graduating high school, Staben said. From a gender perspective, he said, about 53 percent of young women go on to postsecondary education in Idaho, while only 38 percent of young men go on.

Staben said research shows a couple of factors contribute to the low go on rate in Idaho, one being that students don't perceive as much benefit as they would actually receive by going to college.

"It's well-known now that the average college graduate in the United States will earn roughly $1 million more over his or her lifetime than non-college graduates, so that is a huge lifetime benefit," Staben said. "College graduates are actually healthier, happier, more engaged citizens ... Our students don't seem to perceive that benefit, but they are, actually, pretty acutely aware of the cost."

There is a financial challenge in post-secondary education, he said, and students see that challenge, but they do not see the "great" opportunity that awaits them. Therefore, many students get a job rather than continuing education, which does contribute to Idaho's low unemployment rate. Unfortunately, he said, many of the jobs are low-wage jobs.

But UI, and other statewide institutions, are trying to change that perception that the cost outweighs the benefits. One thing recently implemented by the state Board of Education, was the Direct Admit program. Last fall, for the first time, graduating high school seniors in Idaho were "invited" to higher education. Each received a letter from the state board letting students know they were qualified to attend any of Idaho's eight public higher-education institutions. Some did not qualify for the selective schools of UI or Boise State, but were still invited to attend any of the other six institutions.

This fall, the state saw a 6.5-percent increase in freshman in public higher education, which, Staben said, is one of the largest increases in any given year.

Also this year, UI waived its $60 admission processing fee for all Idaho students. Staben said a student from the school newspaper, "The Argonaut," interviewed him about the loss of about $200,000 in revenue for the university. But Staben said if the fee waiver gets 30 or 40 more students to attend UI, financially, it would not be a bad thing. Staben then asked the student if he paid the fee, and the answer was that the student had to wait for a "waiver week," which UI used to do occasionally, to apply because he could not afford the $60 fee.

Some other efforts include the Go Idaho and Discover Idaho scholarship programs, and Staben said the university has changed some of its procedures overall to become more efficient and more effective at communicating with schools and school counselors.

"I'm optimistic that some of this will help us quite a lot in encouraging more students to do what would benefit them, which is attend college," Staben said.

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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