Juneau's fifth-graders got a peek of college life earlier this week when they took a tour and some classes at the University of Alaska Southeast.
But for many of them, it could be the last time they set foot on a college campus as a student, according to a study released Wednesday by the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education.
The study, written by former Juneau resident Ron Phipps, said Alaska's "'student pipeline' is the leakiest in the U.S." For every 50 ninth-grade students in Alaska, only three will graduate from college in the next 10 years, according to the study.
And 19 of those 50 students will drop out of high school, according to the report. The statistics used in the report come from the federal Department of Education, according to Lora Jorgensen, an outreach officer with the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education.
Phipps, who is a senior associate with the Institute for Higher Learning Policy in Washington, D.C., said education does not have a strong place in Alaska's culture.
"There simply is not this sense that education is important relative to other states," he said in a phone interview.
Phipps said there are a number of reasons why Alaskans don't value education as much as other states, including the fact that there are ample opportunities in the state to make a good living without a college degree.
But Phipps said physical jobs and higher education don't have to be mutually exclusive, and having a degree gives older workers more opportunities as their bodies stop holding up to demanding work.
The report suggests that the state should work toward making college more affordable and accessible for Alaskans, and that its K-12 schooling should be geared more toward making students ready for postsecondary education.
The study focused on Alaska as a whole, and information specific to Juneau was not in Phipps' report.
But he said Juneau is an "anomaly" in Alaska, thanks in part to the high number of state jobs in town that require some level of higher education. Parents who have postsecondary degrees are likely to produce students who get degrees, Phipps said.
The Juneau School District's curriculum and assessment coordinator, Phil Loseby, said the district doesn't keep statistics on how many of its students go on to graduate from a university or technical college on time. But he said that students who take standardized tests for college admissions tend to do better, on average, than students both statewide and nationwide.
Emphasizing the benefits of pursuing schooling or training after high school is a priority for teachers and students at Juneau-Douglas High School, according to Kelly Hopson, a counselor at the school.
"We're doing everything we can to promote postsecondary education," Hopson said.
She said all students are encouraged to go beyond the district's minimum to graduate so they'll be eligible for postsecondary education, Hopson said. Even students who say they want to dive right into the work force after high school are encouraged to take more advanced classes that will get them into college in case they change their minds, Hopson said.
"We don't want to close any doors," she said.
Other information from the study:
All 49 other states and the countries of Turkey and Mexico have a higher "degree completion rate" than Alaska.
Alaskans with college degrees are more likely to vote and less likely to smoke than those with only high school degrees.
Alaska has the second highest unemployment rate in the nation for high school dropouts at 17.3 percent.
Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or email@example.com.
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