- Associated Press - Friday, January 6, 2017

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter is once again asking the state Board of Education to shepherd a statewide discussion on education, but this time he wants the focus on colleges and universities.

Otter said Friday that a new 28-member task force will be made up of a wide variety of representatives to study options that could result in changes to postsecondary access and completion. Furthermore, the Idaho Legislature may be asked to take up legislation in future legislative sessions.

“The task force initiative will be to do very much the same thing as we did K-12,” Otter said at the annual legislative preview hosted by The Associated Press. “Where are we anemic, where do we need to have more purpose?”

In 2013, Otter spearheaded a similar effort that focused on K-12 education after the defeat of several high-profile educational voter referendums - supported at the time by Otter and other top elected education officials. The task force’s work eventually resulted in 20 educational reforms that are only halfway done in being implemented. This includes a multi-year effort to boost teacher pay designed to retain and attract educators.

Bob Lokken, the head of WhiteCloud Analytics Inc., and Linda Clark, vice president of the state Board of Education, will co-chair the group. The two had also served on the Otter’s K-12 task force as well.

A full list of the group’s members has not yet been released, but the group will include all the presidents of the state’s colleges and universities.

“The task force is critical in illuminating a path into the future for the state’s higher education system,” Lokken said in a prepared statement. “Our economy and the fundamental nature of work continue to evolve - and it places unprecedented demands on our postsecondary education institutions.”

The task force follows in the footsteps on the ongoing attention being placed to address Idaho’s dismal college graduation rate. State officials have unsuccessfully attempted to reach the state’s 2010 goal of getting 60 percent of Idaho’s young adults complete a post-secondary degree or certificate by 2020.

Currently, only 40 percent of Idaho’s residents between the ages of 25 and 34 have completed post-secondary education. The statistic has also been incrementally decreasing since 2012 as it’s down 2 percentage points from that year.

“I would like it to be a 100 percent, but I think 60 percent is a reasonable benchmark,” Otter said. “If we can get to 60 percent then we’ll know what we’re doing something right.”

Otter added that he expects to start getting recommendations as soon as next September.

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