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Area high school students learn about college at conference

November 02, 2011
BERLIN Over 200 North Country 10th graders gathered last Friday at White Mountain Community College to learn about going to college. Providing help and hope was the key message at the Fourth Annual North Country College Access Convention sponsored by the New Hampshire College & University Council in collaboration with Campus Compact for New Hampshire.

"College is possible," said Scott Power, Director of the NH Scholars Program, and the goal is "getting them the information to better prepare them for college." The obstacles are mostly financial, he said, noting that banking problems have curtailed student loans, families are struggling with a bad economy and the financial aid process can be intimating, but for the persistent student there are more options today than ever before. Students can take classes locally at the community colleges and transfer credits to large colleges. Most schools also offer part-time, flexible and on-line programs.

The key is planning. Katharine Eneguess, President of White Mountain Community College, told the students: "you've got to have a plan." Students listened to three separate panel discussions--- one relating to "paying for college" financial aid, another on "getting into college" admissions and lastly a panel of current college students, including Tessa Bunnell, a White Mountain Community College art-education student, on college life.

A survey of students revealed that the student panel was the most popular and revealing. One panelist told students, "college isn't what you see on TV" in reference to the party atmosphere often portrayed on screen. "You're paying for it," the panelist added.

Dolores Charest, Guidance Counselor at Berlin High School, said the goal was get students thinking about their future. She noted that since 2008, the trend at Berlin High School is away from college especially four year traditional institutions and toward two year programs.

In 2008, 65 percent Berlin's students went to college 31 percent to four-year school and 34 percent to a two-year school. Last year, only 54 percent went to college 23 percent to a four-year school and 31 percent to a two year school. Eight percent joined the military. The reason for this change is clear to Charest, "the cost of college becomes unaffordable."

What may be even more troubling is the 43 percent of the local high school graduates who don't go on to some-sort of college or enlist in the military. These young people enter a workforce with few skills, little experience and lots of competition.

The conference organizers possibly had this in mind. They shared data that suggested college ambition may well be absent from many of the region's young people. The U.S. census data reported that only 30 percent of the Coos County residents are high school graduates or equivalent, 23 percent have some college or an associate's degree, 8 percent a bachelor's degrees and 3.8 percent have earned a master's, professional or doctorate degree. The remaining 35 percent have less than a high school diploma.

Comparatively across New Hampshire, 18.7 percent hold bachelor degrees and 10 percent hold a master's degree or higher. Additionally, in Coos County fewer than four out of ten male high school graduates go on to college.

Participating high schools included: Berlin, White Mountains Regional, Littleton, Lin-Wood, Kennett, Lisbon, Pittsburg and Colebrook Academy. Gorham High School chose not to attend. Video highlights are available at www.WhiteMtNews.com.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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