We are six months into the Trump administration and Republican control of both houses of Congress. Somewhat surprisingly, they have few legislative achievements.
This week, the U.S. Senate is set (once again) to take up a repeal of Obamacare bill. It likely lacks even the votes to get to the floor. I think the future will be similar with lots of gridlock and few concrete measures moving forward.
This creates a policy vacuum for states like Idaho to step up to the plate and tackle issues that matter to their residents.
In 2018, Idaho will pick a new governor, a new lieutenant governor, and all of the Idaho Legislature is on the ballot. What policies will they push?
Any discussion should focus on a set of numbers: Idaho is 49th of the 50 states in average wage per job, 40th in per household income and 48th in terms of our go-on rate to college post-high school.
Effective policies – that matter to Idaho residents -- will move those numbers.
One way to do so is to focus on expanding Idaho’s community colleges. We now have four: North Idaho College (NIC) in Coeur d’Alene, College of Western Idaho (CWI) in Nampa/Boise, College of Southern Idaho (CSI) in Twin Falls and the new College of Eastern Idaho (CEI) in Idaho Falls.
Idaho companies need better trained and educated employees and having a pool of qualified workers is how will attract new employers.
We can boost wages by boosting education attainment by focusing first on expanding the number of people with associate degrees. The average Idaho wage earner with an associate degree earns $8,000 more per year than those with just a high school degree. More associate degrees should equal higher overall Idaho wages.
The key is expanding the reach of Idaho’s population served by community colleges, which provide both in-demand technical training and two-year academic associate degrees. The average tuition in Idaho’s higher education system is $7,351.75 per student. For a community college student, the equivalent number is just $3,347.00 per student. Community colleges can save roughly $8,000 in student loans.
What many Idahoans don’t realize is that Idaho’s community colleges are based on community college districts. A district raises property tax revenue for the college and chooses the leadership of the governing community college board of trustees. As such, the community college districts determine where the academic services for their particular community college are delivered.
Currently, NIC’s community college district is just Kootenai County. CWI only includes Ada County and Canyon County. CSI is only Jerome County and Twin Falls County. And, the new CEI only consists of Bonneville County.
One way to boost community college accessibility is to boost the size of Idaho’s community college districts. Right now, there is talk of Blaine County joining CSI and Bingham County joining CEI.
Currently, our community colleges offer some services in other counties. For instance, CSI has a center in Burley. But, residents of a county not in a community county district must pay higher tuition. And, their county taxpayers have to pay up to $500 a semester to subsidize that higher tuition. It would be better for more counties to be in the community college district and elect the board of trustees. They would increase political pressure for expanded local services.
To put expansion of a community college district on the ballot only requires a petition with 100 valid signatures, approval of the local community college board of trustees and approval of the Idaho State Board of Education. The election itself only requires a simply majority to add the new territory to the existing community college district.
We need much bigger community college districts educating far more students. Doing so will boost our go-on rate, provide better employees for our companies, help company recruitment and boost incomes. It is a win-win and can be done county-by-county by gathering just 100 valid signatures.