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High schools encourage grads to keep learning

When 17-year-old Wendy Renteria started at Eagle Point High School nearly four years ago, college seemed an inaccessible place that only privileged teenagers attended.

Wendy's parents, who moved to the United States from Mexico, where education past the elementary level costs money, never had the resources to complete the sixth grade.

They didn't really know what college was until my freshman year, Wendy said. In middle school, I listened to teachers talk about college, and that's where I got an idea of what it was.

She learned she could go to college through a course at Eagle Point High School, called Wings.

The course gives students guidance on how to chart their futures, including how to prepare for college and pay for it through loans and scholarships.

— Wendy now plans to attend Southern Oregon University in the fall and major in business.

Wings is one of several strategies Eagle Point High School has used in the past 10 years to empower its students to go on to post-secondary schools.

The effort reflects a trend in Jackson County, where some high schools have lagged behind the state and national averages for the number of students who attend college.

Other schools in the county also are working to send more of their students to college. Among them are Crater High School in Central Point and North and South Medford high schools, which are launching small-group approaches to learning designed to better prepare students for the demands of post-secondary education.

Statewide, the number of students going on to post-secondary institutions has increased from 69.2 percent in 1995 to 73.7 percent in 2003, according to an annual survey of 1,500 Oregon high school graduates by the Oregon University System.

The survey for 2005 has not yet been conducted.

The national average for 2003 was 63.9 percent.

There is a greater demand in the marketplace for employees with a bachelor's degree as a minimum requirement, said Ruth Keele, OUS director of performance, measurement and outcome, and there is a greater public perception that there is an economic and personal benefit to a college education.

College attendance rates for Jackson County are shaky at best, as most are based on student surveys before graduation and transcript requests for college applications. Methods differed from school to school.

About 45 percent of seniors at Crater High School indicated they would go on to a post-secondary school of some kind in 2005, according to a school survey.

An exit survey at South Medford High indicated 74 percent of seniors planned to go to a two-year or four-year college after graduation in 2005.

More than 70 percent of North Medford High's graduates went on to a two or four-year college in 2005, according to transcript requests. Because they don't request transcripts, vocational schools could not be counted in North's percentage.

In Ashland, about 79 percent of seniors indicated they would go on to a two or four-year college or vocational school in 2005.

Other Jackson County high schools' college attendance rates were not available Thursday.

The only hard numbers come from the university sytstem, which show only students from each high school that attend a public university in the state.

Between 2001 and 2004, enrollment in Oregon's public universities by Jackson County graduates has stayed relatively constant, according to state university officials.

Student cite a lack of family expectations to go to college, finances and poor grades as reasons for not attending, Keele said.

Education about what college involves can eliminate some of those excuses, said Dave Carrigan, academic counselor at Eagle Point High School.

Since Eagle Point High began its effort to encourage college attendance in 1996, the number of graduates who pursue a college education has gone up from 15 percent to 65 percent, Carrigan said.

The effort began 10 years ago with the expansion of the school's counseling staff followed by a mentoring program designed to steer students toward college.

A third component was an annual &

36;45,000 state grant to start a college education program, which begins in the eighth grade. It involves instruction on college admissions, requirements, financial aid and scholarships as well as visits to colleges in the state.

The high school also added advanced placement courses three years ago.

The effort has changed the culture of the high school, Carrigan said.


Eagle Point High School senior Wendy Renteria is an example of how a college-aimed culture has reshaped her school, leading to more local grads heading off to higher education and better career options. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell