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More freshmen enrolling in W.Va. community colleges and universities, officials say

After all those low marks in reading and math assessments this fall for West Virginia’s K-12 public school students, a positive blip is now occurring on the radar as 2022 wraps to a close, Sarah Armstrong Tucker said.

It comes in the form of increased enrollment this term across the state’s community and technical college system, said Tucker, who is chancellor of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission.

Enrollment in those institutions is up from 15,555 in 2021 to 15,770 this year, according to numbers released Monday by the commission.

While enrollment in four-year schools dipped slightly — 57,102 students in 2021 compared to the 56,303 currently attending, Tucker said she was heartened by the totals.

That’s because first-time freshman enrollment is up at both sets of schools, she said.

To date, 2,530 freshmen are enrolled in community colleges, the chancellor said. There were 2,441 this time last year.

Public universities saw a bigger jump, according to commission numbers, with 9,802 freshmen in classrooms opposed to the 9,433 in 2021.

A total of 5,908 high school students are also taking additional college classes this term, Tucker said.

“We know the availability for dual-enrollment courses for our students plays a significant role in their decision to continue education or [workforce] training,” she added.

Last year, she said, 67% of the class of 2021 took advantage of dual-enrollment courses to continue on after high school.

Graduating high school isn’t the issue — in 2017, West Virginia’s 89.4% rate was the third-highest in the nation — but getting those grads to take the next step, as Tucker said, definitely is.

Only 55% of the graduates that year went on to be college freshman.

Last year, it was 46%, a decline school administrators and others attribute to the pandemic and its aftershocks.

More than half of Mon’s class of 2021, or 56.1%, enrolled in colleges that fall, which is above the state norm — and very much traditional for a school district that is also neighbors with a land grant university.

That still means, however, there were plenty of their classmates who didn’t go.

The district still wants them groomed for the workforce, with viable, needed positions to take advantage of burgeoning tech trends in the Mountain State.

Mon Schools wants to get there by way of science, technology, education and math: The district plans to build a $72-million, stand-alone STEM high school by 2030, in accordance with the schoolwide Comprehensive Education Facilities Plan.

“Our motivation is to get our kids into post-secondary learning, whether it’s a technical program or college classroom,” Deputy Superintendent Donna Talerico said.

“The goal is to get them trained for a paycheck,” she said.

Tucker agreed.

“Students with only a high school diploma earn an annual salary of around $20,000 after graduation,” the chancellor said.

“We must find a way to make college-level courses more accessible to all students,” she continued. “It is critical for them, and it is critical for the long-term economic stability of our state.”

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