Fact Checker

Fact Checker: Student achievement data correct, but Gov. Kim Reynolds veers from it

Gov. Kim Reynolds arrives Jan. 14 at the House chamber for her Condition of the State address at the Iowa Capitol in Des
Gov. Kim Reynolds arrives Jan. 14 at the House chamber for her Condition of the State address at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

In her Condition of the State address last month, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Iowa has “the highest high-school graduation rate in the country and more high-schoolers taking college courses than any other state.”

Analysis

Fact Checker asked the governor’s office for the sourcing behind these claims on the day of Reynolds’ speech. A spokesman said it was partly from an Iowa Department of Education report that, at the time, hadn’t been released yet.

With that report — the 2019 Annual Condition of Iowa’s Community Colleges — now public, we’re rounding back to Reynolds’ claims.

Listen to the Fact Checker team debate what grade the claim should receive

Iowa does indeed have the highest high school graduation rate in the United States, bragging rights the state has had since 2010 — the first year all states reported graduation rates in a common way.

We checked a similar statement from Reynolds during her 2018 Condition of the State address, so we’re going to focus on her new claim that more high school students in Iowa take college courses than any do students in any other state.

According to the Jan. 16 report from the Iowa Department of Education, 50,587 high school students were jointly-enrolled in community college courses in the 2018-2019 school year.

But the claim that Iowa is No. 1 in the nation when it comes to high-schoolers enrolled in college courses actually comes from an analysis of students younger than 18 — which is different from those in high school. Because many high schoolers turn 18 in their senior year, those under 18 constitute a smaller group than high schoolers overall.

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Reynolds’ spokesman Pat Garrett, when providing Reynolds’ sourcing, highlighted a statistic in the report: “Students under the age of 18 comprise more than one-third (34.5 percent) of total enrollment at Iowa’s community colleges, which is the highest in the nation.”

To reach that conclusion, Iowa Department of Education spokeswoman Staci Hupp said researchers within the department analyzed data from National Center for Educational Statistics, reviewing all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

They found the national average for enrollment under 18 was 12.9 percent and that Iowa, with 34.5 percent, had the highest rate in the nation.

Graded a C

Reynolds didn’t say Iowa has the highest rate or the most students under 18 per capita earning college credit in high school — she said we have “more high-schoolers taking college courses” than anywhere.

The Education Department’s data analysis doesn’t support the inexact language in the governor’s claim.

The state with the most students under 18 enrolled in college classes — by far, with 124,035 students enrolled — was Texas. Colleges in several other states — California, Florida, New York, Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio — have more students under 18 enrolled than does Iowa.

It’s true Iowa has the highest rate of college enrollment among students under 18. States topping that ranking all have smaller populations; Iowa, Idaho, North Dakota and Colorado all have fewer than 100,000 total enrollment in their community colleges.

Conclusion

The Iowa Department of Education’s claim that Iowa has the highest percentage of students under 18 enrolled at community colleges is accurate. If that was what Reynolds had said in her Condition of the State address, we would give her an A.

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Instead, she claimed Iowa has the most high schoolers enrolled in college courses — mixing up raw numbers of students with percentages and conflating high school students with students under 18.

Because there is an element of truth in her statement — Iowa’s community colleges do have the highest percentage of students under 18 enrolled — we give her a C.

Criteria

The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/officeholder or a national candidate/officeholder about Iowa, or in ads that appear in our market.

Claims must be independently verifiable.

We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.

If you spot a claim you think needs checking, email us at factchecker@thegazette.com.

This Fact Checker was researched and written by Molly Duffy of The Gazette.

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