The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Reality Check

June 25, 2008

County’s brightest students set their sights on other towns, states after graduating from college

Ashtabula County’s low rate of college-educated adults is not indicative of the work being done by the community’s high school students.

Getting good data on the rate at which Ashtabula County graduates return to the area to work after college is virtually impossible. Kim Landis, executive director of ACCESS (Ashtabula County Continued Education Support Services), says federal privacy laws prevent sharing that information, as does a complicated reporting system that involves numerous agencies that don’t readily share data or track every student.

However, ACCESS, working with the Ohio College Access Network, produced a participant information file for the 2003-04 academic year. It identified 1,156 participants completing their senior year. These files were submitted to the National Student Clearinghouse Student-Tracker for Outreach Programs for a match against their database.

The results returned showed a 53.5 percent match at any point between June 15, 2004, and May 20, 2006. And a match was returned for 46 percent of those students directly out of high school for the fall 2004 term.

Thus, it’s not an issue of graduates not valuing higher education and pursuing it; the problem appears to be one of them not returning to Ashtabula County.

“The likelihood is pretty small,” admits Amanda Blakeslee, who graduated first in her class at Lakeside High School in 2007. An honors student in the engineering program at the University of Toledo, Blakeslee hopes to go into bioengineering.

“There is nothing I can do (in Ashtabula County) with that degree,” she says. “It’s sad. I grew up here, and I feel bad because we are a product of this town, and it is unfortunate we can’t come back and return the favor.”

Erin Reinke was Jefferson’s valedictorian. An engineering student at the University of Notre Dame, she hopes to work in the aerospace field after completing her ROTC commitment to the U.S. Navy. Reinke eventually would like to return to the area and work at NASA Glenn in Cleveland. She says Jefferson was a good community in which to grow up and would be a good place to raise children. But the county’s lack of corporate headquarters, research jobs and higher education make it unattractive to high-achievers like herself.

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Reality Check
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