Breaking barriers

BOISE — It’s all about access. Not just access to adequate technology and tutoring, but also access to satisfactory advising and a stable academic grading system, said Rakesh Mohan, director of the Idaho Office of Performance Evaluations.

Mohan presented the findings of a 2012 report on reducing barriers to postsecondary education in Idaho at a Senate Education Committee meeting Tuesday at the Capitol.

He first addressed the existing barriers that prevent individuals from attempting postsecondary education.

“With respect to barriers, several things we’ve discussed are the barriers to scholarship, counselors and academic grading,” Mohan said.

Mohan said addressing these barriers is essential to achieving the State Board of Education’s goal to have 60 percent of all Idahoans possess a professional or technical degree by the year 2020. He said these barriers also have a staggering effect on Idaho’s economy. Mohan said there must be an increase in linking education efforts to labor efforts to produce a more efficient working society.

Bryan Welch, principle evaluator at the Office of Performance Evaluations, said they spoke with high school students and counselors across the state of Idaho to compile data for the report and to find what types of challenges prevent students from attending college.

Welch said the office worked with the Idaho Department of Education to address student needs. Welch listed what students said are their most prominent obstacles when considering whether to attend a university, community college or vocational-technical program.

“The three major barriers we found are most academic readiness, access and affordability,” Welch said. “We can group the majority of responses into these top three groups.”

In conducting the study, Welch said interviews were the first step in gathering information.

“We first conducted interviews with school counselors, as well as high school students, to inform how we would formulate a statewide survey for both of those populations,” Welch said.

He said students listed fear, intimidation and failing to meet the high expectations associated with attending a postsecondary institution as common barriers. Related to that, Welch said students rely heavily on their academic experiences in high school to decide whether they want to pursue education after high school.

“As far as access … access refers to the student support network available to them — especially the role of the family (and) school counselors,” Welch said.

Welch said a student’s family dynamic plays an important role in their academic success. From being a foundation in the student’s life to playing an active role in their educational motivation, family history is an important aspect in choosing postsecondary education.

“Parental support and family obligations were cited (as barriers) most frequently by counselors and by students,” Welch said.

From a counselor’s point of view, Welch said this might be because of their experience in gauging college readiness and relieving students who have a hindering family system.

Welch said affordability is another major barrier when it comes to postsecondary education. He said students and counselors both cite rising tuition cost as a deterrent, as well as the ability to receive and retain financial aid to cover tuition.

Welch said increased support from parents and counselors is needed to up the percentage of students seeking postsecondary education.

“We recognize the work of the Department of Education and many others to ensure high school graduates are prepared to perform academically at the next level,” Welch said. “Students need an active support system and counselors play a vital role in fulfilling this need.”

Chloe Rambo can be reached at arg-news@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @CRchloerambo


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