Idaho Hopes to Increase College Grad Rates to 60% by 2020

Idaho hopes that by 2020, 60% of its adults between the ages of 25 and 34 will have a degree or a certificate from an institution of higher learning, Adam Cotterell reports. According to a recent 1010 Georgetown University study, that is the percentage needed to create the pool of talent necessary to fill jobs that will require education beyond a high school diploma.

However, some are wondering if the Georgetown estimate is a little too high. Much too high, actually, says Bob Uhlenkott. Uhlenkott is the chief research officer for Idaho’s Department of Labor and he believes that the true number is closer to 30%. He explains the big difference between his estimate and Georgetown’s by laying out his methodology.

A good example is how each study looks at retail jobs.  Most people in retail only have a high school diploma. But a certain percentage have bachelor’s degrees. So, if retail jobs were to double in the next few years, Uhlenkott wouldn’t double the number of bachelor’s degrees the state would need.

“Because we know it doesn’t take a bachelor’s degree to work in retail,” he says.

But at Georgetown, researchers do think some retail workers need higher education.  Tony Carnevale directs the university’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

Carnevale believes that some of the retail positions will require selling of advanced technology. To master it enough to sell it to a consumer, retail workers will need to have additional technology training or even a college degree. Carnevale thinks that if the number of retail jobs available in Idaho doubles in the next 7 years, the type of training required to take them on will change, too.

Carnevale’s report says in five years, 16,000 Idaho sales jobs will require a bachelor’s degree. The Labor Department’s number is zero.

Bob Uhlenkott admits his formula – required by the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics – amounts to a bare minimum estimate. In fact, if state educators used his numbers, Idaho would already be meeting the anticipated demand for workers with higher education.  But Uhlenkott sees Georgetown’s predictions as a maximum estimate.  He thinks the actual number is probably somewhere in the middle.

In translating numbers to policy, Idaho’s Board of Education chose to move closer to the Georgetown estimate. According to the executive director of the board Mike Rush, the university’s methodology makes its study a better predictor. Also, there may be a self-fulfilling prophecy involved. If the state gains a reputation for having a highly educated workforce, it might attract more business looking for exactly those kinds of employees.