County sends 200+ to college each year

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The three school systems in Covington County are consistently putting more than 200 students in the state’s public universities and colleges each year, according to state reports.

Data from the Alabama Statewide Student Database shows that in the past three years, an average of 221 freshmen from Covington County have entered either a four-year public institution or a two-year community college.

Those numbers also show that Andalusia High School, Opp High School and Pleasant Home School steadily sent more than 50 percent of their graduates to college.

Andalusia High Schools’ numbers have declined slightly, but overall, remained steady. In 2011, 62 of the 96 (64 percent) graduates entered college; in 2012, 54 of the 84 (65 percent) graduates went to college; and in 2013, 56 of the 96 (58 percent) went to college.

Andalusia City Schools Superintendent Ted Watson said since his arrival to the area, he’s learned that while there is a significant amount of talk at the school level about going to college, it’s an expectation that is set a home.

“Our parents are setting that standard in their homes for our children to go to college,” he said. “I’m not from here, so I can say this. I’ve never seen the expectations for kids be as high as it is in a place this size before. The teachers know these expectations and the parents put the pressure on the schools to help aid in that. It’s very important to our system. The community expects it, and we do our best to provide the foundation needed for this.”

Since 2011, Florala High School’s numbers have seen a statistical downturn. In 2011, 24 of the 32 (75 percent) graduates enrolled in college courses; in 2012, 6 of the 26 (23 percent) graduates enrolled in college; 9 out of 24 (38 percent) graduates enrolled in 2013.

Opp High School has remained the most steadfast in the percentage of students entering the state’s public universities and colleges.

In 2013, Opp High School sent 54 out of 83 (65 percent) graduates to college; 59 out of 91 (64 percent) entered in 2012; and 50 out of 81 (62 percent) entered in 2011.

Opp City Schools superintendent Michael Smithart said his K-12 staff places an emphasis on college.

“We encourage all of our students to attend their choice of either a four-year or a two-year college,” he said. “We strongly emphasize to our students that in order to be successful, they will need, at a minimum, the skills and credentials they can obtain at a community college”

Smithart said it is the staff’s hope that they can guide students into places they never imagined possible.

“A number of our graduates are first-generation college students and we hope that cycle can continue in their families,” he said. “We have great support from local businesses and our Opp City Schools Foundation that provide many of our students with a scholarship to begin college. It is our belief that once a student enrolls and achieves some degree of success that he/she will continue. “

Smithart said the staff also makes being realistic a priority.

“We stress that no one owes you a college education,” he said. “You owe yourself a college education.”

Pleasant Home School consistently sent between 53 percent and 60 percent of graduates to college between 2011-2013.

Red Level High School sent between 42 percent and 57 percent in those same years, while Straughn sent between 46 percent and 64 percent.

As a whole, the county has sent between 61 percent and 56 percent of its graduates to state institutions.

Data also revealed that the majority of students are taking advantage of the state’s two-year colleges.

In 2011, 169 students from the county attended a two-year community college.

In 2012 and 2013, that number was 151.

These numbers come as no surprise to officials at two-year colleges.

“Achieving a two-year degree before transferring to a four-year institution is a good economic and educational decision,” Lurleen B. Wallace Community College Director of Marketing Renee LeMaire said. “The cost of attending LBWCC is half the cost of tuition and fees at four-year institutions for the same college classes taught by faculty required to be credentialed at the same level.”

LeMaire cited smaller class sizes and the STARS articulation agreement to be sure credits are transferred as good reasons for attending a community college like LBWCC.

“National research indicated that 45 percent of all bachelor’s degrees are now awarded to students who have transferred from a community college,” LeMaire said. “It also shows that about 72 percent of students who transfer with a two-year degree attain their four-year degree compared to 56 percent of those who transfer without finishing a credential.”