Oregon high school graduation rates need attention
Would you be willing to go through a job placement program that only promised two out of three of its clients a job?
How about placing a bet? Would you bet your entire future on an opportunity that only two out of three people actually benefit from?
In Portland, these questions are not merely hypothetical. Only 67 percent of high school students in Oregon graduate within four years. Portland faces a more daunting problem: only 59 percent of Portland high schoolers will graduate in four years.
Even fewer of these are likely to pursue higher education; roughly half of high school drop outs will not attend universities or pursue other degrees. In other words, Portland has a real problem on its hands.
Aside from facing a much lower average income than individuals with some sort of degree, high school drop outs have an increased likelihood of being unemployed. They also face a higher probability of engaging in criminal activities than their peers or facing problems with addiction.
The potential consequences of such a low graduation rate are severe enough that it has state leaders worried. Legislators and activists have been scrambling for a few years trying to figure out why Oregon’s graduation rates are so low.
It is particularly puzzling for some, especially when they examine the data. Certain districts do better than others – those with more funding and parental involvement tend to have slightly higher graduation rates. But then, there are anomalies.
Hood River Valley High School, for instance, has an 84 percent graduation rate—25 percent higher than Portland Public Schools. This is despite the fact that 58 percent of the student body comes from low-income backgrounds and many are the first in their families to earn a degree.
Experts searching for explanations for what makes a student likely to succeed in high school have found than higher levels of community involvement help a student make it to graduation. It is this attention that Hood River Valley High School excels at, while Portland Public Schools tend to lag.
Whereas the Hood River Valley High School staff, PTA, and school board members try to give attention to each student as he or she needs it, Portland Public Schools are overcrowded. They cannot afford to do this. These students are often overlooked as attention is focused on their more outwardly troubled or gifted classmates. With no one to turn to, it is easy for them to give up on school altogether.
Greater community involvement—passing legislation to improve conditions at these schools, forming better mentoring programs and integrating the curriculum of Portland Public Schools with the rest of Portland itself—is necessary to improve graduation rates.
And although we are a post-secondary institution, Portland State is a part of the same community. Students, staff and administration should form more outreach programs with Portland Public Schools.
Whether it is in the form of more university students mentoring high schoolers or PSU offering new practical classes for these teenagers at a low price (or—gasp!—free of charge), the university should step in to help.
Some might ask what the benefit would be for the university itself. A valid question. Once one has reached a university, what impetus is there to stay involved with high schools? Surely one should only move forward.
But higher high school graduation rates are likely to translate into higher university enrollment rates. And prospective students are likely to seek out a university they know will support them. Programs helping them reach a university education in the first place could make a college all that much more attractive to these students.
Of course, it’s naïve to think that this issue could be resolved easily. Even with intense community involvement, there are no guarantees that students will complete their education. There are always extenuating circumstances.
But the fact remains that the community around PSU faces a real problem. A 59 percent high school graduation rate is unacceptable. As an institution of higher education, it should fall to us to help prevent this from getting any worse, at the very least.
After all, an education is nothing to leave to chance—let alone a two in three chance.