South Central Idaho’s 2,500 May Graduates Have ‘Go On’ Choices

The labor force receives an infusion of workers each May after high school graduation. In south central Idaho, early estimates show nearly 2,500 students graduated this spring from public schools in the eight-county area. The final numbers will be released later this year to account for students still completing courses over the summer and those who still plan to graduate by the end of the year.

Finding data on where the graduates end up after the ceremony is more difficult to track. The ‘go on’ rate, or the percentage of high school graduates who continue on to college or community college for degrees or certificates, is an imperfect estimate. Idaho’s rate has hovered around 50 percent, up or down five percent, in recent years. A sizeable portion of the 50 percent who do not ‘go on’ need employment, roughly 1,250 regionally, based on the 2018 graduation rate estimates.

As of mid-May, the region had an estimated 2,290 unique job listings, according to Help Wanted Online, an analytics firm that scrapes job postings from the internet and discards duplicates. This pool of workers – recent graduates – could go a long way toward increasing local productivity and providing opportunities for businesses to offer on-the-job training.

The difficulty in gauging how many students go on to postsecondary training or education lies in one or more of the following scenarios. Some individuals may fall off the records – they don’t go on to training or education in the first years after high school. These graduates are not counted if they do not start college that first year. Some may enter military service or commit to a long-term service role, while others have health emergencies or do not have a Social Security number to track. Some students are in a situation where it is necessary to help support family so college is not an option for financial and time reasons. Others leave the state without sharing their plan for the future.

Data can be captured on students who continue and complete postsecondary education and that shows Idaho’s postsecondary educational attainment is lower than the majority of states. Figure 1 shows the surrounding states’ postsecondary training status as published by Idaho Education News 2018.

So what happens to the half of the south central Idaho’s graduates that do not ‘go on’? Where are they working? In what industries and occupations are they working? With an inordinately tight labor pool, even part-time workers are difficult to hire. To identify the numbers coming out of these high schools and to plan what training must take place to make them career-ready is a hot topic of discussion. Some partnerships already are in place with private industry funding some training for students while in high school. One such example is the Minico Joint School District and its curriculum designed to support the food processing industry by teaching machine operating and food processing skills to high school students.

South central Idaho high schools reported a drop in the cohort of seniors – almost 300 fewer enrolled in 2018 than in 2017. This aggregate includes charter schools and alternative high schools. Some of this slack presumably is in new alternative schools such as Wendell with its Hub City High. It could also be an outcome of smaller cohorts of that age group — cohorts can swing widely from year to year. (See Figure 2 showing 2017 graduation rates for south central Idaho public schools.)

It is clear when reviewing Figure 2 that enrollment size does not guarantee higher graduation rates. Institutions with the lowest graduation rates are those helping at-risk students, typically an alternative high school. Alternative high schools are usually smaller with students in a variety of situations such as raising children, those with truancy or legal issues, those with learning disabilities or those struggling academically. Class sizes tend to be smaller and teachers can focus more on helping the individual, versus a classroom of students with differing learning styles and backgrounds.

Schools with the highest graduation rates can be smaller schools where individual attention to all students is sustainable due to the smaller size — similar to an alternative school size, though not with at-risk students. Some examples in 2017 include Bliss, Carey, the Community School in Ketchum, Murtaugh and Raft River, where 100 percent of the seniors received a high school diploma. These five schools combined graduated just 105 students in 2017.

Five schools in the region with senior classes greater than 200 boasted an average graduation rate of 87.7 percent — higher than the median of all 33 schools in the region at 85.7 percent and the average at 80 percent. Burley, with its growth surge, had more than 200 students in its 2018 senior class after growing 9.1 percent, and its graduation rate was a strong 92 percent in 2017.

Idaho’s overall 2017 graduation rate was 79.7 percent. The most recent data published in Idaho Education News 2018 Annual Report shows Idaho ranking 40th in the nation in 2016 for its graduation rate — losing ground from the previous year’s rank of 39th. The highest performing state was Iowa with its most recent U.S graduation rate at 84 percent, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.

When recent graduates look for jobs, the challenge for most employers is taking time from production or service to mentor employees, especially young employees. Training itself is expensive because it also takes time away from the purpose of the business and errors occur reducing production or quality of service. However, good training is essential in order to move new entrants along the career pathway from probationary workers into productive members of its team. Changing a young person’s life by investing time and resources into development buoys up the company. It sends a clear message that investing in its people is important. It is less expensive to pay for the training in advance and customized to one’s business plan, than after a potential employee has made her/his way in the world and demands a premium.

Jan.Roeser@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist
Idaho Department of Labor
(208) 735-2500 ext 3639

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