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For the week of Jan. 12 through Jan. 18, 2000

Idaho lawmaker calls for education incentive

Commentary by KEN ROBISON

At a time when education beyond high school is more important than ever before Idaho lags behind most other states in the numbers of high school graduates pursuing further education. Idaho's rate is only 47 percent compared to a national average of 65 percent.

More Idahoans need to be pursuing two-year professional-technical training or university education if they are going to compete for the good jobs available in this century. And more trained and educated graduates will be needed to meet the needs of Idaho technical and other industries.

So it makes sense for the state to invest in:

1. Expansion of professional-technical programs.

2. Expansion of community colleges and state universities.

3. More scholarships for students and a reduced rate of growth of student fees.

Student fees at Idaho universities and Lewis-Clark State College have more than doubled in the last decade and in recent years have increased at an average 7.7 percent. After legislatures adjourn without providing adequate funds the universities ask the state Board of Education for another round of fee increases to help close the gap.

While Idaho's fees are relatively low compared to other states, they are a significant barrier for students. Most students borrow heavily and many graduate with extreme debt loads.

At Idaho State University, 69 percent have student loans, averaging $6,678 per year; at Boise State, the numbers are 63.6 percent and $3,922; at the University of Idaho, 58.7 percent and $6,248; and at Lewis-Clark, 54.5 percent and $4,850.

If fees continue to grow at the same rate, a student entering one of those schools next fall and finishing in four years would pay an average of $9,300 with current fees and an added $1,841 with fee increases.

Two remedies are being proposed this session of the state legislature:

1. Provide sufficient funds for professional-technical programs, community colleges and the universities to allow a moratorium on fee increases for the next fiscal year. Even a one year moratorium would save a student entering this fall $700 over four years.

2. Offer any high school graduate, anyone who completes a GED, or any home school graduate a $1,000 first-year scholarship if they qualify for admission to any public or private college or university, any state-sponsored professional-technical school or any community college. This would offer an incentive to complete high school and should help improve the state's 47 percent continuation rate.

Funds are available for both the moratorium and the scholarships within the state's existing revenue structure.


State Rep. Ken Robison, D-Boise, is a member of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Commitee.


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