Upper Cumberland High Schools seeing a decrease in students attending college after graduation but not as significant as the state average.
Cookeville High School Counselor Judy Smith said self reported numbers in 2021 indicated a gradual decline. 68 percent of students planned to attend a four-year university and 21 percent a 2-year institute.
“They looked at going to college online,” Smith said. “All the classes online, I feel like that deterred our students pursuing higher ed and many decided to wait or go to a technical school.”
White County High School Counselor Stephanie Naaktgeboren said since 2019, the school has seen a six percent drop in college-going.
“I think we’re seeing that a lot of people are having trouble seeing that far into the future and maybe not even dreaming as much as they use to,” Naaktgeboren said. “I hope that we can bring some of that back.”
Both counselors said that they do not believe the trend will continue downward since COVID is having less of an impact. Smith said communication with families, introducing higher education at a younger age and emphasizing affordability are keys.
“Our school does a great job of reaching those 8th graders and letting them know that you can earn post-secondary credit,” Smith said. “You can earn industry credentials while you are in high school. (…) We want that communication to go earlier and earlier, so those kids can find their niche.”
The state reported an 11 percent decrease in college-going rates over five years. Just 52.8 percent of high school students attended college following graduation. Naaktgeboren said she is encouraged by the state “sounding the alarm” so schools know to better pursue students this upcoming school year.
“The pandemic has fundamentally changed some things over the past couple of years,” Naaktgeboren said. “I feel like we are starting to break through that fog a little bit, and hopefully we are ready to come out on the other side of that.”
Both Naaktgeboren and Smith said having quality post-secondary education opportunities close to home played a role part in staying above the state downward trend.