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.
"I invite our K-12 teachers to help all of their students realize that college should be part of their future," Buhler said. "And I encourage our college faculty to do even more to help every student reach their goal of graduation."
The survey by the Utah Foundation also showed a divide between the voices encouraging students to attend higher education. When asked whether certain people believe they should go to college, students indicated their counselors and teachers at a rate of 71 percent and 70 percent, respectively, but indicated their mothers and fathers at a rate of 60 percent and 54 percent, respectively.
Teigen said part of that divide is likely attributable to the unique religious demographics of the state. He said many Utah parents likely emphasize religious service as the next step after high school as opposed to continued education.
"I suspect that a big part of that difference is due to our Utah culture and that we’ve got a lot of people of the LDS faith," he said.
Teigen also said there is a correlation between the educational attainment of a parent and the education plans of a student, with children from households without a tradition of higher education enrollment less likely to view colleges and universities as a necessary next step after high school.
Eve O'Neill, head counselor at West Jordan High School, said parents are not necessarily less encouraging about attending college, but in cases where the child is a potential first-generation college student, much of the information about applying and paying for higher education comes from teachers.
"They don’t necessarily get the information about college at home," she said. "They do want to go. They just think sometimes that they can’t go."
O'Neill said she was surprised that 91 percent of recent graduates indicated an intent to earn a bachelor's degree. But she added that often a student will begin studying at a college or university before realizing that their intended career path doesn't require a four-year degree.
"I think that as their goals crystallize a little bit more, as they get older and learn more information, then they vary from the four-year plan," O'Neill said.
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