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Helping Mason County youths go to college

In the Olympia School District, 65% of students a year out of high school are attending colleges. In the Shelton School District, it's 31%.

That's the statistic quoted by Sandra Kaiser, director for government relations with The Evergreen State College, at the League of Women Voters of Mason County's forum "Why College? Challenges to Seeking a College Education for Mason County Youth" on Tuesday in the Olympic College Shelton library meeting room.

The other speakers were Riva Villa, director of Upward Bound Shelton, The Evergreen State College; Lori Thompson with Educational Service District 113 and the Mason County Consortium for Student Success; and Carmen Hoover, professor of English at Olympic College Shelton.

Shelton's number of college students is "not good," said Kaiser, pointing out that The Evergreen State College is located between Olympia and Shelton. She said local students can take advantage of a new program called Shelton Promises. The program, funded by the Legislature with $285,000 this year, offers to pay the entire cost for tuition at Evergreen for all 2025 and 2026 Shelton High School graduates.

Kaiser said 70% of jobs require post-high school education, and about half a million jobs created since the pandemic need that. But college enrollment in the state is dropping, she said.

Kaiser shared a study that showed students who graduated from Shelton High School with no further formal education 15 years ago have a median income of $43,200. Students who earned a two-year degree have a median income of $52,500, with a four-year degree $71,600, she said.

Looking at enrolling your youth in Washington State University on the other side of the state can be daunting, but "you can drive 20 minutes to Evergreen," Kaiser said. "You can still live at home."

Villa directs the Upward Bound Shelton program at The Evergreen State College. The program is funded in full by an annual grant of $309,505 by the U.S. Department of Education.

To qualify for Upward Bound Shelton, students must be the first generation of their family to go to college, be low-income and/or be at risk of academic failure. Upward Bound helps students achieve six objectives to become competitive for four-year institution and quality career options, including having a cumulative GPA of 2.5 or better; achieving at a proficient level on state assessments; continuing in school for the next academic year, at the next grade level or will have graduated with a regular high school diploma; and completing a rigorous secondary school program of study.

Upward Bound Shelton supports students applying for college with college application and enrollment tracking, advising, mentorship, help with college applications and support with essays, help with scholarships, in-class tutoring and "advocacy, empowerment and encouragement."

Villa said obstacles to student success include discouragement from friends, family and teachers; misguided preconceptions about college; a lack of interest in leisure reading; skipping school and absences; inconsistent and unreliable internet at home and within the Shelton School District; depression and anxiety; and life events such as homelessness and pregnancy.

Hoover said many of her students at Olympic College Shelton say they don't follow the news because it depresses them. They seem to be "really confused," but "we do need young people who have a world view," she said.

Hoover recommended the book "The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness" by Jonathan Haidt.

Hoover also praised the Running Start program, which allows students to earn high school and college credits at the same time. About 35% of Running Start students are first generation of their families to be college bound, she said.

Thompson, with Educational Service District 113 and the Mason County Consortium for Student Success talked about The Capital STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Alliance, which seeks to "surface and mitigate systematic barriers, and increase equity and access to STEM opportunities in early learning, K-12 and post-secondary education."

Thompson's slide show presentation stated the alliance "centers its programming and supports on populations underserved by traditional STEM programs and opportunities, including girls, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color), English language learners, students experiencing poverty or homelessness, students in rural and remote schools, students in foster care and students with disabilities."

Author Bio

Gordon Weeks, Reporter

Shelton-Mason County Journal & Belfair Herald


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