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Enumclaw Graduates Headed to Four-Year Colleges Trending Upwards

A recent Seattle Times article said statewide college enrollment numbers were on the decline but local administrators say that's not the case in Enumclaw thanks to a concerted effort to push more rigorous coursework in preparation of higher educati

Over the weekend, The Seattle Times writer Katherine Long indicated in 'Why Washington's kids aren't going to college' that state students were no longer attending two- and four-year colleges in the same numbers they once did in the last two decades.

While the national trend saw a nine-point increase in high-school graduates who did go on to college in the last 20 years, the state's numbers fell from 58 percent in 1992 to 51 percent in 2008, the article said.

The article suggested a number of factors that contributed to the current perceived 'weak college-going culture,' among them a K-12 system that doesn't align well with college admissions requirements.

Not so in Enumclaw

The Enumclaw School District has made notable progress in recent years getting students to challenge themselves academically and administrators are noting the progress. Schools Superintendent Mike Nelson said that in the last three years, the number of students entering a four-year college upon graduating from Enumclaw High School increased from 38 percent in 2010 to 41 percent in 2012.

At its foundation, the Enumclaw School Board has adopted more rigorous graduation requirements at 24 credits, which is more than the state minimum and which aligns better with college prerequisites, said Nelson.

Students at Enumclaw High School are encouraged to pursue Advanced Placement and honors coursework, and interest in doing so has increased noticeably. In 2003, just 3 percent of the student body took 48 AP tests where 39 percent of those tests received a score of 3 or higher (considered passing). In 2010, 16 percent of the student body took 209 tests, and 85 percent of those tests received a score of 3 or higher.

AP classes aren't limited to upperclassmen either, as freshmen are encouraged to pursue the advanced coursework too, and they like it.

And as district director of curriculum, instruction and assessment Terry Parker noted earlier this month, middle school students are now getting a head start completing high school graduation requirements in math while still in the eighth grade.

Information is Key

In spite of recent successes to elevate students to a higher academic platform, there's always room for improvement, said School Board member Corey Cassell.

"I see us as a community in transition, making good progress toward increased college enrollment," he said in an email to Patch this week.

What would help to move the effort along is for educators to better connect with parents and students early on -- like before they leave middle school. "Too often, parents and students do not even start thinking about the next step beyond High School until it is already too late," he said. "Senior year is not the time for students to start thinking about their future. Ideally, the plan starts at the end of their 8th grade year when they begin choosing their freshman classes. Yes, you read that correctly, 8th grade."

Some of that cultural shift in thinking and prioritizing has already begin, Cassell said, citing the change in PSAT administration last year. While the test used to be limited to juniors and given on a Saturday, which conflicted with family and athletic schedules, it is now being offered during the school day. The PSATs provide a chance to practice for the SATs that are typically a mandatory component of college admission and start exploring scholarship opportunities under the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.

But the communication needs work, and Cassell said it's not just a problem in Enumclaw. "Counselors are overloaded to a point where they cannot spend quality time with students to help them understand where they are on the spectrum of college readiness versus minimum graduation requirements," he said. "Ideally, every high school parent should sign a letter of understanding at the beginning of each high school year, outlining where their child stands with regard to graduation requrements and college readiness. If we did this, the communication picture would change almost overnight."

Money Problems

Where interest, preparation and excitement for pursuing a college education aren't lacking, financial constraints often pose another obstacle.

The Times article suggested that a dependence on the state's two-year colleges may be affecting enrollment numbers at four-year schools and further cited state Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle with crediting state lawmakers for setting aside more money for college financial aid than most other states in the county.

But according to Cassell, financial aid is not enough. "Economics often control the decisions families make regarding higher education. ... 4-year universities have become prohibitively expensive for many families to the point of being out of reach for the average family. If there is one thing that should be addressed in Washington State, it would be affordability. Something is wrong when a student can attend a state college in a different state for about the same amount as UW or WSU."

Still to Come Next Week: The Growing Importance of Cultivating Skills in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math

What do you think? When do you start planning for your child(ren)'s college education? What academic and/or financial issues are you and your child(ren) facing when considering higher education? Is it so important what type of post-high-school education your children receive as opposed to how well it prepares them to join the work force? How does the in-state business climate look to you in terms of opportunities for your children when they enter the work force? Tell us in the comments.

Michael Nelson September 27, 2012 at 08:50 PM
The data that was given to April was for EHS graduates attending a four-year university. The percentage range of EHS graduates attending two AND four-year college during that same period was 69% - 73%. This was the statistic in the Times article if you wanted to make a direct comparison.
April Chan September 27, 2012 at 09:42 PM
Thank you for those numbers, Mike. The local numbers are noticeably higher than the state's 51 to 58 percent range.
Charles Hoff September 28, 2012 at 06:18 PM
If finances are an issue then parents need to know that much of the substantial scholarship money is already allocated to students that college know BEFORE the beginning of the 11th grade. What colleges know your child and their interests is the important question. Don't wait until the junior year to start this!
FD October 01, 2012 at 02:48 PM
I am a former parent of an EHS grad. We moved after he graduated. He went to UW and will tell you that EHS did not prepare him for college. He took 9 AP classes and passed none of them. So although the numbers may increase as to those attending the preparation is more important. When we moved my daughter just finished her 10th grade year with a 4.0 at EHS. At the new school we enrolled her; they suggested she take more AP classes. I pushed back as I had evidence that they didn't help my oldest. He then showed me their AP passing statistics. The lowest percentages of any AP classes were passing at 60% plus with some at 90%, compared that to EHS’s 39%. Our goal shouldn't be just getting them to college but preparing them for it as well. I truly love Enumclaw and the school district but moving really made me realize that more needs to be done. My daughter never had homework more than 2 days in a given week. At the new school she attends she has to come home from school every day and works for several hours just to complete her work, preparing her for a much more difficult work load after she graduates. The district here starts teaching math skills that my kids learned in 6th grade at TMMS at 4th grade here. Mike Nelson has done a great job and I am sure he will continue to do so. I think mediocrity has become acceptable in Enumclaw and as much as I love the place we as parents need to be more vocal, involved, and encourage our kids to challenge themselves!

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