ELKHART — Local students are still thinking about going to college, but some may not be enrolling right after high school graduation.
The Indiana Department of Education’s report on the status of Elkhart County schools showed that on average, 72 percent of high school graduates in Elkhart County in 2011-12 were pursuing a college education. Dan Liechty, director of admission at Goshen College, said admissions staff at the school has noticed that more students are considering what are called “gap years” between high school and college.
“I don’t know that we have been given particular reasons (behind this choice), but I think it is often because students aren’t sure about their majors or plans for the future,” Liechty said in an email Wednesday, Aug. 6.
He said other possible reasons for delaying college could be that students need a break from education after challenging high school years, or students could be interested in pursuing “an enriching experience.”
Liechty said that staff members at Goshen College have seen a significant increase in students deferring their admission this school year.
“Some students use this gap year to make themselves more appealing (or) interesting to selective colleges and universities and some (schools) encourage gap years to allow students a break in their studies and a chance to have an enriching experience,” Liechty said. “They are often better students because they took the time off and had this experience.”
Liechty added that he’s also noticed more parents asking what percentage of Goshen College graduates are able to find a job soon after college.
Staff at local nonprofit organization Horizon Education Alliance are working on a county-wide system that would track where local students go to college and whether they finish their degree, according to Horizon’s director of research, Dr. Aliah Carolan-Silva. This is something the organization would like to have in place in the next year, and it involves gathering data from Elkhart County schools and organizations as well as some state sources, said Horizon executive director Brian Wiebe.
Carolan-Silva noted that people in Elkhart County have substantially lower levels of educational attainment than the average for Indiana and the United States overall, according to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.
Wiebe said that Elkhart County residents may not be pursuing higher education because local industries offer jobs that don’t require education after high school.
“Historically, Elkhart County has had good jobs for people who did not have any post-secondary education,” Wiebe said Wednesday. “While that has served us well in the past, I think that many people understand that most of the 21st century jobs will require something beyond high school.”
Carolan-Silva pointed out that college enrollment nationally has increased over the past decade, but yearly fluctuations have shown a recent decline, according to a report from the National Student Clearinghouse on spring 2013 college enrollment data. The college enrollment decline was higher in the Midwest area than in any other region.
Wiebe said that currently about 25 percent of adults in Elkhart County have completed an associate’s degree or better. One goal Wiebe has in mind is increasing that number to 60 percent.
He said that Hamilton County is the only Indiana county where at least 60 percent of residents possess a post-secondary degree.
Wiebe added that staff at Horizon feel strongly that higher educational attainment is directly linked to stronger performance for area companies and better pay for local residents.