Graduation isn’t end of learning

Most peninsula high school graduates seek further education

Posted: Wednesday, May 31, 2006


  Rhealyn Leavitt registers for classes at Kenai Peninsula College last fall. High school graduates should carefully investigate options for scholarships and grants, according to school counselors. Clarion file photo

Rhealyn Leavitt registers for classes at Kenai Peninsula College last fall. High school graduates should carefully investigate options for scholarships and grants, according to school counselors.

Clarion file photo

Graduation is not the end of the road for high school students. If they want to avoid underemployment, they will need more training.

That’s the advice of Kenai Central High School counselor Jon Lillevik.

With college tuition reaching well into the tens of thousands of dollars, however, how will grads be able to afford furthering their education?

Lower-level classes at Kenai Peninsula College cost $120 per credit, according to Carrie Burford, financial aid coordinator. Typically students need to complete 60 credits for an associate’s degree and a minimum of 120 credits for a four-year degree.

Elsewhere, tuition can cost upward of $75,000 for a 120-credit, four-year bachelor’s degree as it does at Michigan State University, or $49,560 at Washington State.

Private schools cost even more.

KCHS senior Siri Larson, who is planning to attend Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., expects to pay $32,000 per year for tuition, plus most of her living expenses.

College is important to Larson, who said both of her parents are teachers.

She plans to major in music and international relations, which she feels will open opportunities for her to do what she wants.

“I like to travel and learn about other cultures and languages,” said the student body president, who has a 4.0 grade-point average.

A member of the KCHS choir during all four high school years, Larson has been awarded a one-half tuition scholarship to attend Pacific Lutheran.

She has received other scholarships, as well. She and her parents will pay part of the bill and the balance of the tuition will be paid with the help of a few small loans, she said.

Larson said the expense of college tuition was not the determining factor in whether she went to college, but without the scholarship, she probably would not have been able to attend the college she wanted.

Although the University of Alaska system advises students to begin the process of applying for financial assistance early, that does not mean it’s too late to seek help following graduation.

“Sometimes students think after graduating high school, it’s too late. It’s not,” said Burford.

Colleges continue to offer scholarships and campus-based funding is available, she said.

In addition to academic and athletic scholarships, financial assistance is available in the form of federal aid, state aid, veterans’ benefits and Department of Labor grants.

Students should start by completing the “Free Application for Federal Student Aid” or FAFSA.

Burford cautioned students to go to the right Web site to do that.

“They should go to, not,” she said. The latter is a for-profit company that charges an application fee.

The application opens the door for federal grants, federal work study and federal loans, according to Burford, and can be the start of the process for obtaining state aid.

She also suggests keeping a scholarship notebook containing personal essays about oneself, transcripts and letters of recommendation.

It will make the process a lot easier at a time when the student will be taking final exams and preparing for graduation, she said.

Homer High School counselor Lin Hampson said she is hearing more high school graduates talk about going to more than just one college.

“Kids are saying, ‘I’m going to go here for one year then somewhere else,’” Hampson said. “A lot are talking about not just one school but several.”

She also said she is seeing more young people going to the Alaska Vocational Technical Center in Seward for vocational training rather than going to college.

Most of the interest is in large engine repair, she said, and one student will learn electrical work and two have expressed interest in process technology.

“It’s a two-year program for oil industry jobs,” she said. “They pay really well.”

Hampson said that, other than summer jobs, there are no jobs in Homer.

“Kids will have to go elsewhere,” she said.

These days, Hampson said, “Everybody has more (education) than high school.

“Eighty-five percent of all people have more education than high school. In Homer, it’s probably 100 percent,” Hampson said.

At KCHS, Lillevik also said he is seeing more interest among kids in apprenticeship programs, particularly heavy equipment operation and electrical.

“When we sit down to count who went on to college, we see about 65 percent,” he said.

One change he has witnessed over the years is that kids are no longer saying, “I’m never coming back to Kenai.”

“That’s changed,” Lillevik said. “I think they’re realizing what Kenai has to offer. That’s a good sign.”

Because of University of Alaska Scholars, a free tuition program offered to the top 10 percent of high school graduating classes, Lillevik said, “A lot of kids are curious about their (class) rank.”

Another program, the Western Undergrad Exchange, also has changed how students approach college, Lillevik said.

If an Alaska resident applies for the WUE program, a college in one of the western states gives the student the in-state tuition rate, plus one-half of the in-state rate, rather than charging the considerably higher out-of-state rate.

“All of the counselors are promoting further education,” Lillevik said. “Not necessarily a four-year college; here we have AV-Tech and KPC.”

KCHS senior Tony Bannock has no interest in college.

“I can’t see putting thousands of dollars into something I’m not going to use,” he said.

Bannock, who already owns his own airplane — a Cessna 150 — is scheduled to report for work at Regal Air in Anchorage on May 30 where he will load planes, fuel them and “a little of this, a little of that,” he said.

While in Anchorage, he plans to distribute his resume around to Alaska Airlines, PenAir and Northwest Airlines.

Already flying with a student license, he plans to continue on for his commercial license with his eye set on the air taxi opportunities he foresees the Pebble Mine project bringing to Port Alsworth and Iliamna.

“I hope to buy a Beaver (airplane) and put it on floats,” he said.

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