Idaho Gov. Brad Little has declared October “Next Steps Month” in Idaho. Next Steps Idaho is a program funded by a U.S. Department of Education grant to prepare students for life after high school. In 2015, only 50 percent of Idaho graduates were enrolled in higher education one year after high school graduation. The state’s goal is to have 60 percent of residents, ages 25-35, possess a degree or certificate by 2020.
Beginning the first of this month, high school seniors in Idaho applying for state college and/or universities will automatically be accepted to at least six of the state’s public colleges and universities.
This automatic acceptance sounds like a noble practice on the surface. It could potentially keep many Idaho seniors from pursuing degrees outside the state and it gives hope to students who may not otherwise be admitted to college a chance to succeed. But look at what that might mean to the universities and colleges that are forced to accept new students who ordinarily wouldn’t meet the requirements to gain entrance.
Automatic acceptance isn’t really aimed at capturing those kids that are already planning on college. If you come from a long line of higher education graduates and have dreams of being on the dean’s list this doesn’t move the meter any farther. That kid is already on a path to be out and into the workforce within two to four years holding their degree.
In reality the program seems to incentivize the kid who doesn’t know what they’re doing with their life beyond high school. If that kid has followed the program all through high school and has a clear plan where automatic acceptance is the final hurdle then I see the potential benefit, but if the program was already working and those kids were following through to college then automatic acceptance wouldn’t be necessary.
There will be some Idaho youth that undoubtably will succeed all the way to college graduation where previously higher education wasn’t in their plan. But for the majority of kids that fit into the target category, it is only going to take two to three semesters’ worth of hangovers and debt before they realize that college wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Mightn’t it be more prudent for them to forgo college and avoid the debt?
From the university’s point of view, this weakens their credibility and their rankings. Forbes has University of Idaho ranked No. 435 on its Top Colleges 2019 list. Boise State University as No. 569, and Idaho State University didn’t even make the list of top colleges.
For Idaho State, this automatic acceptance doesn’t seem to be much of a threat to their nonexistent ranking. I’d bet they secretly welcome the influx of tuition even if it is at the expense of those students that will eventually drop out. Because they can hide behind a perceived moral high ground by claiming that providing opportunities is the right thing to do.
But for Boise State and especially University of Idaho, being included on the list of top colleges, accepting underqualified students will be damaging to their prestige. If education in Idaho is ever going to get better than ranking behind 434 other institutions automatic acceptance is not going to make that possible.
What sounded noble on its face seems to be nothing more than political posturing disguised as something meant to address Idaho’s education rates. Hurrying kids into college might improve the number of Idahoans holding degrees but at what cost?
We’re most likely going to end up with a bunch of 25 to 35-year-olds who were induced to attend college holding degrees and saddled with crippling debt.
Automatic acceptance perpetuates the myth that the only way to be successful is with higher education. The goal shouldn’t be holding a degree. The goal should be to become a contributing member of society. Rather than lowering the bar and accepting everyone the ‘next step’ should be helping those students succeed while in high school so they can earn college entrance, if that’s their chosen path, instead of just passing them through.
As a middle child, Carly Roes has a fine-tuned sense of justice. A mother of two and master of none, she enjoys her experience one day at a time.