Region 8 school addresses problems with college graduation rates

By Josh Harvison - bio | email

TRUMANN, AR (KAIT) – Officials with the Trumann School District Monday told Region 8 News that changes in the college application process should help increase the number of students who pursue higher education. Charles Kirksey, who has been the high school counselor for the Wildcats more than a decade, said those students who decide to attend college oftentimes fail because they're not ready, either financially or motivationally.

"The most important thing is to empower the students with knowledge that can act on their own and get from point a to point b, but what we're finding recently, many of them even though they have the knowledge, won't quite follow through for one reason or another," said Kirksey.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, out of every 100 residents in Poinsett County, roughly six are college graduates, the lowest percentage among Arkansas' 75 counties.

"Beginning last year, we took a couple of turns to do even better," said Kirksey.

Last year, the new Trumann high school building opened up for students and teachers. According to Kirksey, several new programs have been implemented into the curriculum and students have new resources to find collegiate options.

"I look for ambition. I look for students with a plan beyond today," said Kirksey. "I would say distractions. Too much early independence, a lack of self responsibility, I think those are the main reasons a student will fail."

According to school performance records linked to the Arkansas Department of Education's web-site, the high school graduation rate dropped from 85% in 2006/2007 to 78% in 2008/2009. In the same time frame, the school's dropout rate increased from 2.4% to 6%.

"I think we can sit with each student one by one by one by one and guide them through any process they need to go. I think we're past the point of me empowering them with knowledge. I think we're going to be able to sit down beside them and make sure they get what they need to get," said Kirksey.

A new career services program began last year when the new school building opened. Kirksey said students, former and current, can use the facility to find college financial aid and find which college or university is the right choice for them.

"This room is primarily for counseling staff to assist students in getting scholarship applications filled out, Pell grant form, FAFSA," said Kirksey. "When I went, I paid every dollar out of my wallet, but I don't think anybody can do that today."

Kirksey said he was not sure what the current college graduation rate for Trumann graduates is. The Census Bureau said Marked Tree, Harrisburg, Trumann and East Poinsett County are included in the group of schools with low college graduation rates.

"College is tough. College is confusing. It's a new world. It's not high school anymore and many many come back to speak with me or the counseling staff," said Kirksey.

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