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Survey: Majority of Utah high school graduates intend to pursue college, job training

Published: Friday, Oct. 11 2013 3:45 p.m. MDT

A survey released Thursday by the Utah Foundation shows that a vast majority of Utah's high school graduates intend to pursue higher education.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Emma Fuller has a plan.

Following her graduation in the spring from Sky View High School, she will enroll at either Utah State University or BYU — her preference, she says, is USU — and study secondary education.

"You have to go to college to get a good education and get a good job," Fuller said. "If you don’t go to college, you're one step back, and I want to make sure I’m one step ahead."

That sort of forward thinking is the rule more than the exception in the state. A wide majority of Utah's high school seniors plan to pursue college and job training after they graduate, and most have a good idea about the kind of career or job they want, according to a survey released Thursday by the Utah Foundation.

Nine out of 10 members of Utah's class of 2013 said they intend to earn a bachelor's degree or higher at some point in their lives, with a smaller majority indicating they would enroll in college or job training the autumn following graduation.

"Just over 71 (percent) of graduates expect to be in college or job training within six months of graduating, though this number is downwardly influenced by the large number of young men planning to perform missionary work (for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)," Utah Foundation President Stephen Kroes said in a prepared statement.

The survey by the Utah Foundation, an independent public policy research firm, showed that 43 percent of students have a strong idea of what career they want to pursue. Another 45 percent of students indicated they "maybe know" the job or career they want.

But it also showed unease among graduates toward the financial aspects of a college education, particularly when broken down along socioeconomic lines.

"Some of the survey results are a bit disconcerting," said Shawn Teigen, a senior research analyst for the Utah Foundation. "For example, about three times more lower-income graduates and non-white graduates do not know how they are going to be paying for their postsecondary education."

The survey, conducted in partnership with Salt Lake Community College, analyzed responses from 531 students from 62 high schools. Female respondents outnumbered males by 59 percent to 41 percent, but the results were not weighted due to the results being largely unchanged when a weight test was performed.

Teigen said it is encouraging to see that so many Utah students are college- and career-minded during their senior year of high school. But he added that the unfortunate reality is that many will not succeed at earning a degree.

Roughly 65 percent of students in Utah enroll in postsecondary education after high school, and among that group there are issues of attrition and retention, Teigen said.

"A lot of these kids just aren't going to make it," he said. "When you look at higher educational attainment, you see that there's such a huge number of people who have started school but have maybe gone for between one and three years."

In Utah, 27 percent of adults fall into the census category of "some college, no degree," compared with the national average of 20.6 percent.

Education officials in the state, as well as the governor and state lawmakers, have adopted a statewide goal to increase educational attainment. The goal calls for 66 percent of adults to have a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2020. In order to achieve that goal, the Utah System of Higher Education aims to increase the number of degrees awarded in the state by 4 percent each year.

At an education summit Wednesday, Dave Buhler, commissioner of higher education, called on educators at all levels to work together to better prepare students for both high school and college graduation.

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