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2013 August 19 - 12:00 am

TRACKING TRENDS : Ind. Considers Steps To Steer More Students to Higher Ed

Trout, 18, started receiving welding certifications during two years at the Central Nine Career Center and graduated from Whiteland Community High School in May. Since graduating he’s been working at Lanham and Sons Inc. in Whiteland as a welding apprentice, where he makes less than $20,000 per year.

Next year, he’ll start attending classes paid for through his union and start earning more welding certifications. Once he finishes the courses, which could take up to five years, Trout thinks he’ll qualify for construction or mechanical jobs paying about $72,000 per year. He’s also interested in running his own mechanical contracting business some day; and while a business degree would help, he also thinks he can learn what he needs to working in a shop.

“I could see where you could need (a degree). But I wouldn’t say you have to have it,” he said.

Trout’s mother questioned his plans to pursue a career without college, but he didn’t have many conversations with teachers or counselors at Whiteland about his goals and why college didn’t fit in. But that may change for other teens pursuing trade careers, because school officials are concerned about the number of students graduating without plans for further education.

In 2011, about 38 percent of Johnson County’s 1,688 graduates didn’t go on to college. The rates varied from about one-fourth of the graduates from Center Grove High School to nearly half of the graduates from Franklin Community High School, according to data from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

Principals and superintendents want to see those rates improve. And Greenwood and Clark-Pleasant schools already have been adding college-level courses and encouraging students to take them.

But increasing the number of students going to college also means talking with students earlier about their career goals and explaining to them why college should be a priority, Greenwood Superintendent Kent DeKoninck and Whiteland Principal Tom Zobel have said.

Area high schools need to do a better job of offering opportunities to students who want to start working as quickly as they can after high school, DeKoninck said.

That includes reaching out to students such as Trout who aren’t interested in a four-year degree, the administrators said.

Trout became interested in welding during his freshman year after a family friend encouraged him to start taking classes at Central Nine.

He started making career plans shortly after learning how to fuse different kinds of metal together. Some family and friends, including his mother, were shocked when he told them he wasn’t going to college, but most calmed down after hearing he had a detailed plan for the next five years.

Still, Trout was surprised to learn that two years ago 42 percent of Whiteland’s graduates also didn’t go to college.

While Trout won’t have a degree, he also won’t have tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. He feels he’ll learn more in a shop than sitting in a classroom, which is somewhere he’s never been comfortable.

But not all high school graduates without college plans have thought beyond the next year or two, he said.

“You just have to sit and think, ‘What are they doing if they aren’t going to college?’” he said.

At Greenwood, where about 64 percent of 2011 graduates enrolled in college courses, DeKoninck wants teachers and counselors to start targeting students who say they don’t want bachelor’s degrees and talking with them about two-year and other degree programs.

If those students know more about the classes they can take and the degrees they can earn at community colleges such as Ivy Tech, they’ll be better prepared for their careers, DeKoninck said.

“It’s the awareness piece. That’s a career guidance component,” he said.

Both DeKoninck and Zobel also want their high schools to keep more detailed records of how well graduates are succeeding four to five years into college or their careers.

Some of that information can come from the commission for higher education, but the administrators also want to know specifically what is and isn’t working at their high schools, they said.

What they don’t know yet is the best way to follow up with students or how to track hundreds of graduates per year.

“We have to find ways to measure that. And we have to be aggressive in how we follow up. But that can be tough to do,” DeKoninck said.

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