Oregon lags in high school grads-to-college rate

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PORTLAND (AP) — Despite an ambitious college goal, Oregon remains behind the national average for high school students who enter higher education and well short of its own expectation.

Only one Oregon district met the goal of getting 80 percent of high school graduates to college, the Oregonian reported Monday in a story about the 2011 graduating class.

The story shows how far the state has to go to reach the goal set two years ago of getting 80 percent of the state’s young people to earn a college credential — 40 percent for a four-year degree and 40 percent for an associate’s degree or industry certificate.

Statewide, 61 percent of high school graduates entered college or community college, which was seven points below the national percentage, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse and Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In all, 14,000 students in the class of 2011 didn’t try college and are likely to get jobs such as sales clerk, security guard, waiter or parking lot attendant, according to Brenda Turner, occupational economist with the Oregon Employment Department. Few of these jobs pay more than $9.50 an hour, she said.

The district that exceeded the goal was Riverdale School District, which sent 86 percent of its 2011 graduates to college. It serves Oregon’s wealthiest neighborhood, Dunthorpe.

Young men and Latino students were particularly prone to forgo college, and rural districts frequently have low college-going rates, the figures show. Only 56 percent of males and 46 percent of Latinos in the class of 2011 took a college course within a year and a half of completing high school.

Students need rigorous high school classes that impart the reading, writing, math and analytical skills needed to cut it in college, Oregon schools chief Rob Saxton said.

But, he said, many Oregon students don’t get enough rigor, sometimes because schools offer watered down classes and sometimes can’t afford a full slate of classes to juniors and seniors.

ACT test results suggest only about half of Oregon high school students are academically ready for college.

Among bright spots in the figures was Portland’s Jefferson High School, where most students are low-income, which sent 79 percent of its graduates, including 80 percent of its black graduates, to 23 different colleges.

Principal Margaret Calvert said a small graduating class, about 90 students typically, allows the school to help seniors do the paperwork and make the connections for college.

Jefferson students also benefit from on-campus work at Portland Community College and from mentoring by Self Enhancement Inc., a nearby nonprofit that focuses on helping African American young people graduate from high school and go to college.

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