MURRAY — This week, hundreds of Utah high school seniors will submit college and university applications as part of a push to increase enrollment in higher education.
Among those students is Cottonwood High School senior Berkely Mitchell, who plans on applying to Dixie State and Southern Utah universities on her way to becoming a pediatric anesthesiologist.
"It's beyond scary," she said of the impending end of her high school days. "I'm an inquisitive person, so I'm probably going to have a lot (of questions). It's nice to have resources available."
The Utah College Application Week, which began Monday, is a pilot program involving three school districts and sponsored by the Utah System of Higher Education. During the week, volunteers at eight Utah high schools will assist students in submitting their applications. Application fee waivers are also available to low-income and first-generation students to provide extra incentive.
"We're really targeting our disadvantaged students to give them the opportunity," said Nate Salizar, a community school coordinator with the United Way of Salt Lake who works with Cottonwood High School. "It's daunting, especially for first-generation students whose parents may not have had that experience. So this simplifies the process."
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams also participated in the kickoff to the week at Cottonwood High School. He spoke of his own educational experience, like donating plasma to have some extra money for a social life and the decision to run for student body president at the University of Utah that sent him "astray" into political life.
"With your committment and your work, you can make it through college," he told students. "A college education is accessible to you and it is the door to a bright and prosperous future."
Cottonwood High Principal Alan Parrish said roughly one-third of his students traditionally enroll in college after graduation. He said hopefully the event contributes to an increase of that number while also helping students understand that applying to college isn't as difficult as they may have assumed.
Utah College Application Week is the latest initiative by the Utah System of Higher Education to boost post-secondary enrollment and degree attainment. Recently, education officials launched a "15 To Finish" campaign aimed at encouraging students to take a full course load in order to save money and more quickly complete their degrees.
A recent survey conducted by the Utah Foundation found that 90 percent of the high school class of 2013 intended to pursue continued education or job training following graduation.
But according to the Utah System of Higher Education, only 54 percent of high school graduates and 41 percent of low-income students enroll in post-secondary education immediately after their high school graduation.
"There is nothing more important students can do for their futures than graduate from high school and go on to graduate from college,” Melissa Miller Kincart, assistant commissioner for Outreach and Access, said in a prepared statement. “We want all students in Utah to know they are college material and offer them the support and information they need to get through the college application process.”
As part of Utah College Application Week, students who complete their application will receive an "I Applied" sticker and are encouraged to tweet their experience using the hashtag #IApplied.
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