More Idahoans Pursuing Education after High School

Education and the workplace are increasingly linked. Employers want better-trained workers. Workers want better-paying jobs.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one of every four adults had a college degree in Idaho in 2012, a significant increase in the last generation. But the educational level of adults nationwide has been rising at a much greater rate since 1980.

At the same time, nearly 61 percent of Idaho adults including college graduates had obtained education beyond high school, an increase of nearly two thirds since 1980. But while that was three percentage points higher than the nation, the number of adults with postsecondary education has risen 80 percent since 1980.

Adults_college degrees graph

As Idaho faces a future of high technology demands, uncertain innovation, heightened global competition and opportunity requiring increasingly higher skill levels among workers, preparation appears to have lagged, whether in apprenticeships, associate degrees, certifications or college diplomas.

But gains in education attainment since 1980 have been significant. The importance of education appears to be gaining traction with Idahoans.

During past post-recession periods, postsecondary educational institutions, especially community colleges, lose enrollment as jobs recover. For the Great Recession, recovery has been slow but steady and may not exhibit the same characteristics as past recessions, particularly in light of the message about the importance of postsecondary education.

Economic Modeling Specialists International estimates the number of individuals completing a postsecondary program, receiving an associate or bachelor’s degree or a certificate. Apprenticeships are not covered because they are not provided by educational institutions that report statistics to the Census Bureau.

Health care programs had the most completers statewide and were at or near the top in all six regions in 2011. Business programs ranked second statewide with the significant participation in southwestern Idaho offsetting comparably lower showings in some other regions.

Completer numbers table

Idaho State University is known for its health care and health science programs. It also has a highly credible professional-technical department that provides workforce support to industries throughout southeastern and eastern Idaho. In eastern Idaho, Brigham Young University-Idaho seems to be the leading contributor to business and educational degrees.

Notable in the rankings was participation in training for various personal care services – training often offered by industry specific institutions like cosmetology schools. These schools prepare students for occupations such as skin care specialist, hair stylist, shampooer, colorist, nail technician and barber. Massage therapists earn a median wage in Idaho of $18.48 an hour – nearly four dollars an hour higher than the state median wage for all jobs.

These personal service jobs are important to Idaho communities because every rural area has female workers who can earn or exceed the statewide median wage in these jobs. The shifting structure of the state economy and the aging of its population also increases demand for some of these services.

The most unique program among the most completed was in northern Idaho – precision production, which includes welding and machine operator training. It had 43 completers in 2011.

Overall, northern and south central Idaho contributed the smaller percentages of postsecondary completers, primarily because neither has a four-year college. Many students attend the less-expensive two-year community colleges in those regions and then transfer to a four-year school to obtain a degree.

North central and southeastern Idaho trained a hefty share of engineers — almost 350 in 2011 – at the land grant University of Idaho and at Idaho State University. Both have a solid number of international students on campus.

Over 80 percent of those completing health care degrees or certificates were from southwestern, south central and southeastern Idaho. At the College of Southern Idaho, healthcare courses that are stepping stones to higher wages or college degrees are registered nurses, radiologic technologists, surgical technicians, dental hygienists, pharmaceutical technicians and veterinary technicians.

Regional completer table 1

Regional completer table 2, regional economist
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