Staben talks higher ed with SHS seniors

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(Photo by MARY MALONE) University of Idaho President Chuck Staben paid a visit to Sandpoint High School Friday to hear a presentation on college go on rates by SHS students, from top left, Sarah wilburn, Alicia Stiefel and Kaylauna Forell to. A handful of SHS seniors attended as well.

SANDPOINT — University of Idaho's President Chuck Staben returned to Sandpoint Friday to discuss college and Idaho go on rates with about 20 Sandpoint High School students.

Staben read a Daily Bee article in February about three SHS students who gave a presentation to the Lake Pend Oreille School District trustees on post-secondary comparison. He wanted to meet the students who did the research and hear the presentation for himself, and a group of SHS seniors were invited to the informal meeting as well.

"One of the key initiatives that we have undertaken over the last several years is to try to get more Idaho students to go on from high school to college," Staben told the group. "... College education is a huge benefit to the people who get it and it is a huge benefit to the state to have a college-educated populous."

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. The national average of students who go on within 16 months of graduation is 63 percent, he said. 

The students who spoke, SHS senior Alicia Stiefel, and SHS juniors Sarah Wilburn and Kaylauna Forell, talked about the rates of students from Sandpoint High School who go on to college, comparing them to different schools in the region and throughout the state.

According to their research, Sandpoint High School's go on rates, as self-reported by Sandpoint seniors in 2015 was 197, or 86 percent. Out of the last six graduating SHS classes, 1,134 students planned to go on to college and 236 students did not, according to the self-report. According to the state records, indicated on the following slide, the go on rate for 2015 was 137 or 60 percent — 26 percent less than self-reported. Some reasons for the discrepancy could include students who go into the military or non-federally funded schools, as they are not required to report numbers to the state.

Compared to other schools in the region, the go on rate of SHS students is slightly higher, even with the state's report of 60 percent. Lakeland High School, for example, had a go on rate of 55 percent in 2015. There is also a success rate for SHS when compared to all statewide 4A public schools that do not have a local college. In 2015, the statewide average go on rate for those schools was 45 percent. High schools that have a local college campus had higher go on rates than those that did not.

Some reasons the group listed that students might not go to college, at least not right out of high school, include going to work, traveling and the "summer melt" — students who committed to going to college, but after taking time off for the summer, change their minds about going back to school. These students might still go to college eventually, which would include them in the statistics in later years rather than in the number of students going to college directly from high school.

The University of Idaho McClure Center for Public Policy Research recently did a study on the life choices of high school seniors. Researchers surveyed 385 young Idaho adults who graduated high school in 2015 in an attempt to understand why Idaho's go on rate is so low. Reasons they found that Idaho students do not go on are in line with what the trio discovered for their presentation, including military and work.

According to the survey, males more than females are inclined to go directly to work after high school. Male respondents who said "having a job I love" was most important when deciding their life after high school were significantly less likely to enroll in college than females with similar values.

Other reasons for Idaho students not going directly to college, according to the McClure Center study, include being near family and being involved in church. Idaho has an "unusually" high number of young adults who enlist in the military or serve religious missions directly after high school, the study says. As far as being near family, females were found to be less likely to go on than males when they hold this value as a high priority.

Most of the group of students who met with Staben on Friday said they are planning to attend college — several of them plan to attend UI — but one prominent issue among them regarding college decisions was financial concerns. Some said they looked into different colleges, but chose to stay in-state because the cost was much lower. Stiefel said she plans to save money by attending North Idaho College for the first two years before moving on to a four-year school, likely UI. Staben said UI has "VandaLink" scholarships geared toward students coming from two-year schools, based on GPA.

According to the McClure Center study, financial concerns were typically found in students coming from a low-income community, which was measured using the child poverty rate, and also from students who have a family depending on them to help pay bills. Although Idaho's unemployment rate is among the lowest in the nation, it has the 49th lowest average wage per job, so it is not unexpected that financial concerns influence students' decisions about life after high school, the study says.

Staben said Gallup polls show that college graduates are happier, healthier and more engaged citizens who earn roughly $1 million more over the course of their lifetime than non-college graduates.

One student in the room disagreed with this statement as he identified himself as the "outcast" of the group.

"I'm not going to college — end of story," he said, adding that he has a solid plan to go to work as a logger after high school and already has an employer.

After hearing everyone talk about "money, money, money," he said his parents taught him that money doesn't buy happiness. Staben agreed that college is not for everyone and wished him luck.

Staben discussed some of the new programs being implemented in an attempt to entice more Idaho students into attending college. UI officials made the decision this year to begin waiving the $60 application and processing fee for all Idaho students. They used to hold a "waiver week," but decided to do away with the fee altogether. Other efforts include the Go Idaho and Discover Idaho scholarship programs. The Go Idaho scholarship, for example, is based on a student's high school GPA. Seniors with a 3.9-4.0 GPA will receive $4,000 per year, which covers more than half of tuition at UI. Students with a 3.75-3.899 GPA would receive $3,000 per year; those with a 3.4-3.749 GPA would receive $2,000 per year; and students with a 3.0-3.399 GPA would receive $1,000 per year.

Another effort, the Direct Admit program, invites graduating Idaho seniors to attend higher education. Each senior receives a letter from the State Board of Education letting students know they qualify to attend any of Idaho's eight public higher-education institutions. Those who do not qualify for the selective schools of UI or Boise State were still invited to attend any of the other six institutions.

After the students left, Staben said it was interesting to hear concerns the students had about their first year of college coming up, such as housing. He said they probably have a lot of unspoken concerns as well.

He said much of what he heard from the students was not surprising, though, because studies on life after high school show much of the same concerns, such as cost of higher education and getting jobs that do not require college education.

Staben said he always enjoys hearing directly from high school students. Principal Tom Albertson said in his 30 years at SHS, Staben is the first UI president to visit the school.

"I feel it's always good to have experiences at high schools," Staben said. "High school's are kind of our customers."

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

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