Oregon Lags on College Enrollment Rate, Data Shows

Although the rate of high school graduation among American students is at an all-time high, Oregon demonstrates that this rise doesn't automatically translate to higher college attendance. A new report shows that even as Oregon continues to make progress on increasing the number of kids who get a high school diploma, nearly 40% of them end their education at that point and never take advantage of any higher education opportunities.

Only 61% of 2011 high school graduates from the state enrolled in a college program, which includes four-year and community colleges, by the fall of 2012 according to data collected by the National Student Clearinghouse. This puts Oregon dead last among all the states when it comes to college attendance; nationwide, 68% of American students who graduate high school go on to college.

The tendency to forgo higher education is especially prevalent among male and Hispanic students. Only 46% of Latinos and 56% of male graduates enrolled in college after earning their high school degree in 2011. These figures prove that Oregon has a long way to go before it can reach the goal that state legislators set two years ago to raise their college enrollment numbers among high school graduates to 80%.

Many experts feel that the issue could lie in the quality of the high schools and how well they're preparing students for college-level work.

Principals, counselors and researchers all say schools play a big role in whether many students go to college. To get there, students need rigorous high school classes that impart the reading, writing, math and analytical skills needed to cut it in college, says Oregon schools chief Rob Saxton. For that reason, Tigard-Tualatin schools, where he was superintendent for seven years before taking the state post last summer, eliminated low-level math and science courses, he said. But many Oregon students don't get enough rigor, sometimes because schools offer watered down classes and sometimes because schools can't afford to offer a full slate of classes to juniors and seniors, Saxton and other said. ACT test results suggest only about half of Oregon high school students are academically ready for college.

Some districts have solved this problem by creating partnerships with local college campuses to expose their students to more rigorous college courses while they are still in high school. Jefferson High School in Portland takes part in such an arrangement with the nearby Portland State University. Roughly half of Jefferson students take at least one PSU course, which allows them not only to access more advanced academic material but also to get used to being in a college environment, including learning how to navigate a university campus.

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