Oregon State social demographer Lena Etuk has been following Oregon’s goals for 40 percent of the state population to have a bachelor’s degree by 2025, 40 percent to have an associate’s and the remaining 20 percent to have at least finished high school. Idaho has a different goal for college attainment by 2020 and one of the main challenges has been measuring progress toward that goal. In this essay, Etuk suggests some revisions to the measurements used and looks at the pipeline of young adults moving toward Idaho’s higher education goals. — Eds.

The Complete College Idaho Plan is a “plan for growing talent to fuel innovation and economic growth in the Gem State,” and according to the Idaho Board of Education website, the goal is for 60 percent of Idahoans age 25 to 34 to have a college degree or post-secondary certificate by 2020. This is an ambitious goal that deserves some deeper exploration, so we can get a better idea of how the different offices, agencies and organizations across Idaho can contribute to its attainment. In addition, it’s important for the state to be aware of the possibility of its attainment.


For more college attainment data see our TBR Infographic on Complete College Idaho

The goal implies measurement of the following:

  1. The total number of Idahoans age 25-34 with a college degree
  2. The total number of Idahoans age 25-34 with a post-secondary certificate
  3. The total number of Idahoans age 25-34

Data about the total number of Idahoans age 25 to 34 with a college degree is available from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. This data comes from a sample of the population and therefore has a margin of error associated with it, but it represents the best available source of data about adult educational attainment for Idaho.

A January 2012 report from the Idaho Office of Performance Evaluation also called for revisions to the state’s baseline data for measuring achievement of the Comple College goals, to tie it more closely to Census data. The June 2013 follow-up report indicated that the State Board of Education had declined to implement that recommendation, but the board response suggested that 2020 Census data would ultimately be used to gauge success or failure, though educational attainment data is now collected primarily through the American Community Survey.

Data about the number of Idahoans age 25 to 34 with a post-secondary certificate are not available from a reliable source. The American Community Survey is the most reliable source of data about the educational attainment of the population, by age, and unfortunately their educational attainment categories do not include post-secondary certificates. The closest they come is providing estimates of the number of people who have an Associate’s degree. So in order to assess Idaho’s current and future achievement of this education goal, we will need to change the measurement to the number of Idahoans age 25 to 34 who have an Associate’s degree.

Data about the total number of Idahoans age 25 to 34 can come from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, administered annually, or the US Census Bureau’s census of population, administered every 10 years. As the other measures will need to come from the American Community Survey (ACS), it makes sense to use the ACS estimates of total population in this age group.


As the chart shows, in 2013 about 35% of Idaho adults age 25 to 34 had an Associate’s degree or more education, plus or minus 2 percent. This was well below the target of 60 percent.

Idaho educational attainment

Note: These figures are estimates because the Census Bureau provides educational attainment figures for 18-24 year olds and 25-34 year olds as separate categories. There are some people who are currently 25-27 who will count toward the Idaho Education Goal, however, as they’ll be 32-34 in 2020. Without exact data from the ACS about the educational attainment of people age 25-27 now, it is possible to estimate the number of people currently age 25-27 who have various levels of education. The assumptions made for this estimate include: assuming the same distribution of educational attainment among those currently 25-27 as those age 25-34 and assuming that people age 25-27 make up 29% of the current population age 25-34.


For Idaho to reach its 60 percent goal it needs to look to its current young adults to help them meet the target — specifically, Idahoans aged 18 to 27 in 2013; because they will be the ones aged 25 to 34 in 2020.

Next we’ll examine the educational attainment of this group of young adults in Idaho, to better understand the educational pipeline for the next seven years. Of course, there may be new young adults who move into the state during this period who can also affect the percentage with an Associate’s or more in 2020, but for the purpose of this thought-experiment, to keep things simple, we’ll only look at current Idaho residents age 18 to 27 in 2013.

The chart below shows the percentage and estimated number of Idaho residents age 18 to 27 with various levels of education, from the 2013 American Community Survey. The margins of error around these estimates are approximately +/-2 percent and +/-3,200.

Educational attainment of Idahoans age 18-27 in 2013:

Percent of 18-27 year olds Number of 18-27 year olds
Less than High School 13% 27,661
High School 33% 72,118
Some college 35% 77,715
Associate’s + 19% 42,403
Total 100% 219,898

If we assume that all of the people now age 18 to 27 stay in Idaho and do not die, and no one in this age group moves to Idaho in the next seven years, then we can talk about who, among this group of Idahoans, needs to have a post-secondary degree by 2020. If we want 60 percent of these people (so 131,939 people) seven years from now to have an Associate’s degree or more, then we need the 42,403 people age 18 to 27 who currently have an Associate’s or more to stay in Idaho, and we need an additional 89,536 people currently aged 18 to 27, who have less than an Associate’s degree to get that degree or higher in the next 7 years.

Though it would be nice to hope that all of the current 18 to 27 year old Idahoans with some college would get a degree by the time they’re 25 to 34, it’s unrealistic to aim for 100 percent degree completion among this group. To achieve the educational goal, the state might more realistically aim for about 60 percent of people currently age 18 to 27 with some college and about 60 percent of people with only high school to get a post-secondary degree by 2020. That translates to 43,271 people currently aged 18 to 27 with only a high school education need to get a post-secondary degree and 46,629 people with some college need to finish their degree.


In order to measure the attainment of Idaho’s goal for education, it may be useful to consider revising it to attainment of an Associate’s degree or higher by 2020. This revision may prompt the need to revise downward the desired percentage, however, because Associate’s degrees are not synonymous with post-secondary certificates. Alternatively, it may be beneficial for the state of Idaho to implement its own data collection system, in order to estimate the number or proportion of Idahoans age 25 to 34 with various levels of education. Though costly to implement, a comprehensive population-level data collection effort could be useful to other aspects of state government and citizen priorities.

In order to achieve Idaho’s goal for education, it will be necessary to implement a fairly aggressive suite of programs and policies targeted at young adults. It is likely that young adults with some college, and not currently in school, will be easier to convince to return to school than young adults with only high school and not currently in school. They’ll be more familiar with the admissions process and may have a better sense of what they want out of an educational experience now that they’ve been out for a few years. There are going to be barriers that these people will face in completing a post-secondary degree, however, not the least of which are tuition costs, forgone wages by limiting work hours and challenges juggling the commitments of young family life and school.

It will be important for supportive policies to be put in place that can help young adults pursue a post-secondary degree. In addition, effective social marketing campaigns will be needed in order to motivate young adults to pursue higher education and inform them of the resources available to help them complete a degree. The state of the economy is also another factor. When the economy is good, people see less need to increase their education. As the Pacific Northwest slowly emerges from the Great Recession, the perceived need to increase one’s educational credential is likely to slowly decline; unless a shift in the labor market occurs or other incentives emerge. A variety of public agencies as well as private businesses may need to ally with one another to promote and support the achievement of the Complete College Idaho Plan’s goals.

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The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University, the Center for Idaho History and Politics, or the School of Public Service.