BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Five years ago, the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation launched its effort to interest more students in postsecondary education. The Boise foundation launched "Go On" and backed it with $11 million in scholarships and grants of up to $40,000 each to a handful of mostly small rural middle and high schools.
Now foundation leaders are considering how they can be more effective.
When the foundation started the campaign in 2009 — with ads reminding students that "high school is not enough" — Idaho ranked 43rd in the nation in its share of students who go on to postsecondary education. Five years later, the state is in last place.
"You can look at the initiatives over the past five years, and you can look at the awareness campaign, and you can look at the data that has actually shown we are getting worse in our go-on rate," Jamie MacMillan, foundation president and the great-granddaughter of Albertsons founder Joe Albertson told the Idaho Statesman (http://bit.ly/1otAz9a). "Is that working? Well, obviously not."
A better-educated workforce will be required to meet job demands in Idaho, according to national studies. Concern over Idaho's workforce has led the state to set a goal that 60 percent of Idahoans ages 25 to 34 have postsecondary education by the year 2020.
So this summer, challenged by Idaho's dismal slide, the foundation will crunch data, revisit programs and analyze market studies to see how it can improve its initiative beginning this fall.
— Refining the message and better targeting it to seventh- through 12th-graders, the audience the Albertson Foundation wants to reach.
— Enlisting more community support to encourage high school students to get postsecondary training.
— Making more room in the message for students to investigate trades — plumbing, carpentry, electricity — to meet a growing shortage in those jobs as Idaho and the Treasure Valley come out of the recession.
The foundation hasn't decided how much money it will put into the latest effort.
In the spring, the foundation sent teams across Idaho to talk with students about the "Go On" campaign and learned that many students were misreading the foundation's intent. They thought the Albertson Foundation was pushing a four-year college education, something many of them weren't interested in or possibly couldn't afford.
Many thought they were left with a choice of being a fast-food employee or going to a traditional college, said Jennie Sue Weltner, foundation spokeswoman.
So the foundation is working on a plan to rebrand its message with a new slogan: One, two, four or more.
Students should seek post-high school education in any of a variety of ways, from trade schools and community colleges to traditional colleges and universities, MacMillan said.
The new slogan "feels like (it is) embracing and scaling the strategies ... that we've been deploying and funding for the past five years," she said.
"Go On" has achieved some successes. In schools such as Homedale High, with 380 students, go-on rates have shown marked improvement since the school received a $40,000 grant from the foundation.
Debbie Flaming, a school counselor, used grant money to buy updated textbooks and to hire an instructor to lead students through their required senior project, in which students research a topic, do community work and make a presentation.
The instructor also emphasizes postsecondary education. "It's more than just what do you want to be when you grow up," Flaming said.
In 2012, 49 percent of Homedale High's graduating seniors sought education after high school, matching the statewide average. In 2013, Homedale's rate was 55 percent, while the state's dropped to 46 percent. For 2014, Homedale estimates that about 90 percent of seniors will pursue postsecondary education of some sort.
Throughout Homedale's efforts, the school has urged students to think about more than just a four-year college, and to consider community colleges and tech schools.
In the class of 2014, 40 percent plan to attend two-year schools and 46 percent plan to attend four-year schools, Flaming said.
"We've had the most success out of the smaller, more rural schools," MacMillan said. "Possibly because they are more nimble."
The Albertson Foundation also is thinking about retooling how its message is delivered to students.
TV ads, billboards and public service announcements — traditional ways the foundation has sought to put its message out — are not where young people get their information, said Weltner. They use social media. The foundation is looking at "a very youth-driven strategy which is sort of for the kids, by the kids," MacMillan said.
Foundation leaders have already started working with a program called Strive that pairs college students with high school students to show them how to navigate the complex world of getting into college. A handful of English students at Boise State University spent last year working with students at the high school in Horseshoe Bend as college mentors.
Also in the works is a program called the Idaho P-TECH Network, a version of a program begun in Brooklyn, New York, in 2011 as "Pathways in Technology Early College High School" that connects industry leaders with high school and college students.
The program would guide students along career and college paths while still in high school. Idaho P-TECH could alter the curriculum, turning a high school speech class into a Communications 101 class that would earn students college credit. Business professionals would work with students, providing internships and promising students job interviews when they complete their education.
"One of the things we have found is this is very much a community effort," MacMillan said.
Trade leaders hungry for workers also are asking the foundation to help them encourage students to consider careers in their busy fields.
Dan Ediger and Kenny Anderson at Ediger Plumbing, located at 8529 W. State St. in Boise, say they need more apprentices as their business in plumbing custom homes and light commercial buildings picks up. Finding and keeping apprentices is difficult.
"They don't look at it as a valid career," said Anderson, whose Anderson Plumbing recently merged with Ediger.
Ediger runs two crews, each of which pairs a journeyman and an apprentice. The company has enough business for four crews.
"We are literally working 10 to 11 hours a day," Ediger said.
Wayne Hammon, executive director of Idaho Associated General Contractors, said contractors are experiencing the same problem with a variety of specialized workers, including framers, painters, heating and air conditioning workers, and carpenters.
"No one wants a job," Hammon said. "They want a career."
People who start in the building trades — and stick with them — can earn salaries of $40,000 to $60,000 a year, Ediger said.
Hammon is developing a website to be a clearinghouse for the trades, including where and how to get trained. He said he wants the foundation to help spread the word about it.
Information from: Idaho Statesman, http://www.idahostatesman.com
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