When you ask students at Juneau-Douglas High School to identify one of the school's smartest students, the name Caitlin Goettler, 15, comes up. A ninth-grader full of energy, Goettler is clear about her future plans - she wants to go to college and become a doctor specializing in sports medicine. When you ask her where she wants to go to school, her resolve is just as clear - she wants to go out of state.
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"There's not many opportunities here," she said.
Other Juneau students expressed similar opinions about wanting to leave the state to go to college.
Some leave. Others just don't pursue further education. According to a recently released study, Alaska has the lowest percentage in the country of young adults involved in post-secondary education. Only 28 percent of adults ages 18 to 24 in the state are attending or have attended any type of education after high school. Alaska ranks among the bottom three states for the percentage of ninth-graders who will finish high school in four years and then attend college.
The "Quality Counts 2007" study was funded by The Pew Center on the States and conducted by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, based in southern Maryland.
Sterling Lloyd, a research associate at the center, said the numbers include technical education, associates' degrees and community college.
"Generally, the post-secondary rates are directly related to a states ability to compete economically," Lloyd said.
The study used a variety of methods to collect data, including issuing surveys to the head education official in each state and analyzing census data.
The numbers are confusing to some in-state educators. According to Dale Staley, assistant principal for JDHS, more than 50 percent of JDHS graduates go on to college. With the possible exception of some rural schools, this is the same number more or less across the state. Staley agreed that one explanation for the disparity in the numbers could be that a large portion of Alaska high school students are leaving the state to go to college. Another reason could be the 63 percent graduation rate in the state, which is almost 10 percent lower that the national average, according to the study.
Katrina Starbard, 15, a ninth-grader at JDHS, said she wants to be an accountant. She wants to go to school in Michigan. Her 11th-grade friend, Mandee Collins, 17, also wants leave the state for school.
"There's a lot better programs outside of Alaska," she said.
Kate Ripley, spokesperson for the University of Alaska, said the study does ring true, "In Alaska we have a very low percent of people going to college."
According to Ripley, roughly half of Alaska high school graduates who go to college leave the state. This is despite efforts to lure high-performing in-state students into the UA system with generous scholarships, and money requested to help students who struggle academically.
The average cost of an education at UA, $10,424, is still low when compared to other states. But students seem to want a mix of what living in Alaska often brings - small-town living and the opportunity to experience natural beauty - with greater economic possibilities.
"I don't want to be in Alaska, there's just more opportunities other places," said JDHS freshman Shawnee Good, 14.