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College knowledge

November’s a busy time for post-secondary planning in schools

Though November was recently declared “Oregon Goes to College” month by Gov. Kate Brown, educators would like Douglas County students and parents to know a couple of vital pieces of information.

First, there are lots of options folded into the definition of “college.” And second, even though local schools schedule college-prep events and activities in November, post-secondary planning goes on throughout the academic year.

“People may be under the illusion that ‘college’ is narrowly defined as a four-year university, but it’s much broader than that,” said Jim Early, Career Center counselor at Roseburg High School. “I try to use the term ‘post-secondary planning.’ Because colleges can include community colleges and two-year vocational programs and certificates.”

At South Umpqua High School, senior/junior seminar GEAR UP teacher Kristy Westbrooks was deep in Nov. 14-18 College Application Week activities during every class. Though the focus is intense in mid-November, Westbrooks said her college and career readiness classes keep students busy year-round. Another benefit of the school’s College Application Week is the return of over a dozen SUHS alumni who not only volunteer to assist students with the application process, but who also share their experiences as first-year college students with the current year’s graduating class.

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“We work on college, financial aid and scholarship applications throughout the year,” she said. “We are very fortunate in that the school board, administration and the staff support preparation all year long, every year, in pushing the college-going culture.”

The support has paid off. Westbrooks said 55 to 60 of SUHS graduates go on to college – an impressive tally for a school that graduated 87 students in 2016.

“A lot of that is a direct result not just of College Application Week, but GEAR UP activities,” Westbrooks said. “They work to ensure not only that all seniors are on track to graduate, but also are preparing Plans A, B and C for their futures.” And the nudging starts early. In the South Umpqua School District, GEAR UP engages students from seventh grade on up.

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For 2016-17, the round of SUHS activities officially started in late September with Financial Aid Night, in partnership with Umpqua Community College. Portland State University and Southern Oregon University representatives visited the SUHS campus in November. Local scholarships and a “College Cash Campaign” will be the focus in late winter/early spring. The college prep year wraps up with a spring visit from other Oregon public universities representatives.

Several Douglas County schools have turned to existing programs to promote a college-going culture. Among them are GEAR UP, Aspire, Educational Talent Search and Upward Bound. Families are encouraged to check with local school offices to see which services and supports are available for their students.

In the coming months, educators, youth development leaders, parents and students will be joining voices to identify additional resources needed by students and families to support their post-high school education planning. A recent grant award of $40,000 through the state’s Reach Higher Oregon  initiative will be used to support events and increased access to information that helps students prepare and plan for a successful transition to college, career and beyond.

Post-secondary education also has been the focus of numerous events at Roseburg High this fall. The school hosted Financial Aid Night in late September, followed by the Douglas County College Fair and Junior/Senior College Night in early October. A scholarship workshop took place in late October. The Frosh/Soph College Night was Nov. 2, with a first-ever Military Careers Night a week later.

Early said that while career advice for students will vary, according to the individual’s post-high school plans, the overall message from these gatherings applies to all.

“Do well in school – that’s the message,” Early said. “Get the best grades you can and take the classes most appropriate for you. It sounds simplistic, but they need to get the basics like attendance, and to develop the skills and habits that go along with being successful.”

Similar messages no doubt are being delivered throughout all Douglas County schools. As in Roseburg, many scheduled post-secondary-prep activities to coincide with Oregon Goes to College month.

At Camas Valley Community Charter School, administrators chose to focus on College Application Week from Nov. 7-10, according to Superintendent Patrick Lee.

“We had career- and college-themed KAHOOT competitions, door decoration contests, and GEAR-UP or college dress-up day,” Lee said. “Some (teachers) set aside time for seniors to do college applications.”

Filling out college applications was also a priority for seniors the second week of November at Yoncalla High School, where numerous related events were scheduled beginning in October.

Yoncalla High Principal Brian Berry said juniors and seniors in November attended a Path to Scholarships workshop, described as a dropout-prevention presentation that challenges students to “dream great dreams and overcome obstacles, allow(ing) students to move forward with character, strength and confidence.”

Also in November, Yoncalla students grades 7 to 12 visit, respectively, Umpqua Community College, Lane Community College, Southwestern Community College, Oregon State University, Western Oregon University and Portland State University.

The college theme extends into December, when juniors and seniors are invited to a Financial Aid Night aimed at making them “become college-process literate.”

Just as important as being process-literate is understanding the array of options open to students of all abilities. Roseburg High’s Jim Early said he emphasizes to students that not everyone needs a bachelor’s degree to be successful.

Umpqua Community College, for example, has vocational programs that are great steppingstones to jobs as an electrician, welder or millwright, Early said.

“The median income for an electrician is $51,000, whereas a teacher goes to college for six years and starts at $35,000 or $36,000 a year,” he said. “As for millwrights – it’s common to hear that jobs in timber production are going away because of technology, but the people who work with that technology are in high demand.”

For South Umpqua High’s Kristy Westbrooks, one of the biggest takeaway messages she tries to impart to students is to keep their options open. That means applying to as many colleges as they can, whether community colleges, public or private universities. And exploring all forms of financial aid.

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Last year, SUHS students secured $2.7 million in scholarship dollars to two- and four-year schools.

“Many students think they can’t afford to go to college, when in reality, there are many opportunities and scholarships that bring the price tag down,” she said.

“It takes some work and dedication, but it can be a reality. If you put in the time and effort, the results are usually pretty amazing,” she said.

To find out more about Oregon Goes to College month, visit  http://oregongoestocollege.org.

 

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