Congratulations to all students across Idaho who recently graduated from University or any workforce training program! In my district, students who studied at University of Idaho’s graduated just last weekend. Your hard work and dedication to advancing your education is one of the most invaluable resources to our state. The education that you have received represents your future prosperity and also the state of Idaho’s as well. Oftentimes, people forget the importance of training graduates to our overall prosperity and you don’t get the recognition that you deserve.
All of these recent graduates will (I hope) spend time celebrating what is likely one of the biggest achievements of their lifetime. Shortly after, they will make their way into the job market. And, once they successfully find a job, we will all benefit from their newfound knowledge and experience.
The only way that we can continue economic prosperity in Idaho is with an educated workforce. We need workers who can compete on a national and international level. Idaho cannot have the most groundbreaking ideas made with the most innovative technology if we do not have a trained, educated workforce. When Idaho has an educated workforce, companies will expand their operations in Idaho and also want to move operations here. Employers of the 21st century depend on the high productivity and creativity of a well-trained workforce.
When we have more companies, we have even more jobs. When we have a lot of jobs that need to be filled, wages increase for the average Idahoan. Increases in wages allow people across the state to buy homes, spend money on local products, invest in businesses, and more. When a state has trained, educated employees available, the state has a really good shot at a stable, flourishing economy. This is especially true in Idaho where there are so many opportunities for improvement. For example, there are currently around 7,000 unfilled STEM jobs in Idaho which amounts to $450 million in unclaimed wages and $24 million in state tax revenue.
Unfortunately, we need a do a much better job of making this happen. Our Go On rates (the number of students going from high school to college) was only 44.6% and has remained that low for several years. And, last year, the National Student Clearinghouse Research did a nationwide study on college graduation rates. Idaho was fourth from the bottom with only 50.7% of students obtaining a degree after entering college. Idaho students aren’t lazy, unmotivated, or unwilling to finish their college or training programs. Idahoans aren’t starting college and, when they do start, they aren’t finishing. Today’s students are unwilling to take on the large debts our system requires and are not completing college. There staying in low paying jobs or leaving the state instead.
During the recession, funding to keep our students in college or training dropped drastically and it has never increased back to what it was before the economic crisis. Meanwhile, tuition in Idaho increased by 40% over the last ten years. We know that we need our students to get an education for their future prosperity and for ours. And yet, we have not worked to make sure that happens. We need to find a way. Our future depends on it.