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More AHS grads head to college

In the past two years, the number of Ashland High School students attending college has jumped nearly 20 percentage points.

After years of hovering between 65 and 70 percent, the number of graduates attending two- or four-year schools jumped to 85 percent for last year's seniors, which includes seniors who reported they would take a year off before continuing their education.

Michelle Zundel, director of educational services for the district, attributes the dramatic increase to a multi-faceted approach including alternative programs, a range of activities to keep students involved, and community support in the college mentoring program ASPIRE.

"I believe that parents and students are recognizing the need for post-secondary education," she said. "It's just an economic reality now that students need to complete post-secondary degrees."

New influence

The push to get more students thinking about life after graduation began when Principal Jeff Schlecht returned to the high school in 2002 after a 12-year break, she said.

"When I started looking at the data, I said to my staff, 'Oh my gosh, I'm looking at the same stuff I was looking at 12 years ago. We really haven't focused in on those kids who aren't really sure what they want to do after high school.'" Schlecht said.

The statewide ASPIRE program &

initiated at the high school soon after Schlecht's return &

pairs community volunteers with students who are not necessarily thinking about attending college. Twenty-two mentors help develop educational plans this year with about 70 students, school counselors said.

"We don't go into this relationship with the student with the idea that they're going to go to a particular college," Schlecht said. "It's more to raise awareness about what their particular skill set is and getting them to imagine their future. In the olden days when I was in high school for example, my dad would sit me down and go through the classifieds of the Los Angeles Times on a Sunday morning. He'd say 'If you would like to do this job, let's just figure out what skills you're going to need.' For me, I needed to go to college to get those skills."

Junior college outreach

The biggest change has been the number of students attending two-year schools, with 24 percent of the class of 2007 enrolling in community colleges, compared to 18 percent in 2006.

"As many as 40 more students attended two-year colleges last year than the previous year," Zundel said, adding that Rogue Community College has improved outreach efforts in the last several years by providing tours of their campuses and sending speakers to schools.

Whether students choose a two- or four-year college or an apprenticeship doesn't matter so much to Zundel as long as they have thought seriously about their future.

"I don't believe that one size fits all," she said. "I want students to graduate from high school with options ... to be able to enter a profession to allow them to support a family."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or . To post a comment on this story, go to .