Idaho Scholarship Program a Boon for Students and State

The workforce development scholarship helps students get the education and training they need to meet state workforce needs. Demand for the scholarships has been higher than expected.

Idaho on U.S. map

A new workforce development scholarship program in Idaho is generating more interest than originally projected, and state officials say the response reflects the demand for education and training needed to fill jobs in the region and an opportunity to get and keep young people employed in the state.

The LAUNCH program offers Idaho high school graduates, or those who completed equivalent education programs, a grant that covers up to 80 percent of tuition and fees for higher education, or a maximum of $8,000. Eligible candidates must either be enrolled or have applied to a degree program at one of 76 eligible Idaho institutions offering state-approved degree or certificate and training programs in high-demand careers.

When state lawmakers approved the program last year, the Idaho Workforce Development Council, WDC, which is overseeing the program, didn’t anticipate the large wave of interest it would receive after applications began being accepted in October.

WDC officials had estimated the program would get 7,500 applications, but approximately 12,600 individuals—68 percent more—had already started or submitted applications as of Dec. 28. The April 15 application deadline is still more than two months away.

Idaho governor Brad Little is “immensely proud of the students and families utilizing the LAUNCH program” and sees it as “a unique opportunity to connect young Idahoans with the education and training they need for successful careers,” Madison Hardy, Little’s press secretary, said in a statement.

Hardy also noted, however, that the WDC will have to prioritize which students are awarded scholarships due to the large volume of applications. The state allocated $75 million for the program this year, which will fund between 9,000 and 10,000 scholarships.

“Students seeking education and training to enter health care, trades, teaching and STEM-related careers will be among the top recipients of LAUNCH grants,” Hardy said.


State Policy Priority

Workforce development is a policy priority of state lawmakers and higher education leaders across the country. A recent report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association ranked workforce development as the No. 1 policy priority of public university officials for the second year in a row. Some states, including ArkansasIndianaKentuckyMaryland and Minnesota have operated similar scholarship programs since 2017.

Tom Harnisch, vice president for government relations at SHEEO, said governors across the country have increasingly been focused on workforce development as they set ambitious goals for degree attainment in their states.

For example, former Idaho governor Butch Otter set a high bar back in 2010 to raise the percentage of state residents ages 25 to 34 with a degree or certificate from 37 percent to 60 percent by 2020. But more than three years past the original target date, the state still hasn’t reached that goal. The state’s current degree or certificate attainment rate is 51.8 percent, according to the Lumina Foundation, an education philanthropy group that advocates for college access and compiles degree-attainment data.

“In some states, the trend lines are not encouraging,” Harnisch said. “They really need a shock to the system,” especially in a tight job market in need of middle-skill workers to fill positions that don’t always require degrees.

“Some high school graduates may not feel that there’s a need to go on to pursue a postsecondary credential,” he added. “But with bold proposals, like the Idaho LAUNCH program, you’ll provide significant incentives for students to go on and pursue higher education.”

Harnisch also noted that interest in workforce development scholarships has been highest among policymakers in red states, who view them as more targeted alternatives to broader college promise programs in states such as MaineMichigan and Massachusetts.

“This is a bipartisan winner,” he said. “If you have a conservative governor and Legislature, they’re going to want to make sure that the dollars they invest go directly towards available jobs to the state as opposed to a broader approach that might require more public investment.”