The University of Alaska Southeast will boost depleted high school career counseling services, thanks to a new grant.
First National Bank has given UAS $125,000 to help guide Southeast's rural high school students in how to apply to colleges, if college is the right choice for them.
The grant will be spent over three years, but schools will be left with information kits that can be used in the future.
University and bank officials hope the program will encourage students to graduate from high school and think more concretely about their future.
As the resource industries hire fewer people, it's more important for students in villages to have a formal education, including college, UAS spokesman Kevin Myers said.
"What they're finding is they (villages) need people with a different skill set than they ever had," he said. "They'd love to hire someone who grew up in Hoonah and knows how to do accounting or manage in the tourism industry. It's a changing economy."
Alaska ranks very low among the states in the percentage of students who graduate high school and in the percentage who go on to college, Myers said.
Juneau loses about a third of its freshmen to dropping out, Ketchikan about a quarter and Angoon about half, according to reports filed with the state. The dropout rate among Natives typically is much higher than among whites.
Much of the grant, $100,000, will go toward a three-year program called Trailguide: Life After High School, in which UAS staff and students will talk to high school students and their families about college.
Students also will receive an interactive CD-ROM that walks them through the steps of choosing a career and post-secondary options, applying to a college, and financing their education.
"It gives them something to go with, rather than starting from scratch," said Bob Love in Sitka, the Trailguide coordinator.
It won't be a recruiting effort for UAS, said Dean of Students Paul Kraft. Instead, the program will try to help students find the right fit.
"Part of what we're trying to do here is fill a need in the smaller communities to have students and their families learn more about life after high school," Kraft said, "and how to get there from here because so many of the schools, especially smaller schools, do not have a career counselor like we do at Juneau-Douglas High School."
The Chatham School District - serving Angoon, Gustavus, Klukwan and Tenakee Springs - valued career counseling so much that it recently recruited a counselor with a background in helping students select post-secondary options.
But it came at a cost. The district had to drop one principal position and ask a teacher to serve as head teacher, said Superintendent Connie Newman.
The biggest obstacle to getting Chatham's students into college has been a lack of a coordinated effort districtwide to provide information about colleges, she said. Newman was glad to hear UAS would implement an informational program, as well.
"I think it fills a great need," Newman said.
The bank's grant also will help fund three television shows on the issue of rural students and college. Videotapes of the shows can be used in schools afterward.
Using $25,000 of the grant, UAS and KTOO-TV, the public television station in Southeast, will create three shows about the challenges of increasing the number of rural students who go to college. In addition, KTOO is supplying about $18,000 worth of free production services.
The local 30-minute segments will be broadcast as part of a national public television series called "The College Track."
Dates to air the shows statewide - possibly on the Alaska One public television network and the Alaska Rural Communications Service - haven't been set, said Jim Mahan, station manager at KTOO-TV.
The shows will examine how schools prepare some students for college and not others, what happens in communities when low expectations for academic success become high expectations, and why so many college students drop out before getting a degree.
"Our villages - they need good information and information about their lives that can make a difference," Mahan said.
Eric Fry can be reached at email@example.com.