The numbers of students in most local districts pursuing higher education appears to be increasing, with Tamaqua and Panther Valley leading the way.

Of Tamaqua's 2012 graduating class, 131 students, or 91 percent, will be seeking higher education. That's lower than previous years, but still higher than the state's 2011 rate of 76.5 percent, the most recent data available.

In 2004-05, Tamaqua's graduating class saw 147 students, or 93 percent, further their educations. In 2010-11, the figures were 145 students, or 94.8 percent.

"We've always had very good numbers," said guidance counselor Frank Dickman. "With Lehigh Carbon Community College, our numbers are now in the low 90s. Before LCCC, they were in the high 80s."

The Jim Thorpe Area School District enjoys an 89 percent rate of its 2012 graduates seeking further education. Of the 119-member graduating class, 106 students, or about 89 percent, are continuing their educations. The numbers continue an upward trend for the school district: In 2004-05, 107 students, or 86.3 percent, went on to post-secondary education. In the 2010-11 school year, 109 students, or 87.9 percent, continued their educations.

Of the Panther Valley School District's 78-member graduating class, 67 students, or 85.89 percent, are headed toward post-secondary education. Of those, high school Principal Joseph Gunnels said, 26 plan to start their college careers at local branches of Penn State University or Lehigh Carbon Community College.

"Students and their families are taking a common-sense approach to finding the most affordable, cost-effective way to get an education," he said. "Students are researching their career pathways and employment options. They are taking more time to plan their futures and thoughtfully research financial aid options."

More PV students

stay closer to home

Gunnels said that Panther Valley has "more students staying closer to home, attending local colleges; only six are going to college out of state."

He said the district helped push students toward continuing education.

"We really put quite a focus on career pathways and career education. The students are guided more, and encouraged to focus more on what they want to pursue. It's working."

In the 2004-05 school year, 57 of Panther Valley's graduating students, or 77.0 percent, went on to post-secondary education. In 2010-11, the figures were 70 students, or 74.5 percent, according to the state Department of Education.

In Palmerton, 114 of the 138 graduating students, or 82 percent, are seeking enrollment in post secondary schools. In 2004-05, 109 students, or 79 percent, went on to post-secondary education. In 2010-11, 96 students, or 80.7 percent, continued their educations.

The Lehighton Area School District's Class of 2012 has 144 students, or 78 percent, who plan to further their educations. Forty-three will be starting at LCCC and of those, two or three are going via the honors program, tuition free, said guidance counselor Kathy Ebbert.

Again, the district is on an upward trajectory. In 2004-05, 127 students, or 77.4 percent, went on to post-secondary education. In 2010-11, the number was 102 students, or 70.8 percent.

Weatherly Area School District Superintendent Tom McLaughlin said that of the 48-member 2012 graduating class, a total of 37 students, or 77 percent, were headed to post-secondary education, including two and four-year colleges and trade schools.

Weatherly is another school district whose students are gaining. According to the state Department of Education, in 2004-05, 50 students, or 80.6 percent of the graduating class, went on the post-secondary education. In 2010-11, 50 students, or 72.5 percent, furthered their education.

Carbon Career and Technical Institute will see 40 of its 70-member graduating class, or 57 percent, go on to higher education. CCTI is yet another school whose numbers of post-secondary education-bound students are increasing. In 2004-05: 23 students, or 24.2 percent, went on to continue their educations. In 2010-11, 36 students, 44.4 percent pursued further education.

Dropout rates

Meanwhile, three of the seven local school district saw their dropout rates decline, while the other three saw increases and one stayed the same.

Tamaqua dropped from a 4.4 percent dropout rate in 2004-05 to 0.31 percent in 2010-11.

"We found that the biggest hurdle was the transition from eighth to ninth grade. There were too many students who failed their freshman year," Dickman said. "So we've put a lot of programs in place to remedy that issue."

CCTI brought its dropout rate down to zero from 2.6 percent in 2004-05, according to the state Department of Education. Lehighton's rate has also dropped, from 1.0 percent in 2004-05 to 0.90 in 2010-11.

Weatherly's rate hasn't changed: it had no dropouts in the 2004-05 school year, and that stayed the same in 2010-11.

Palmerton's rate rose slightly, from 1.4 percent in 2004-05 to 1.12 percent in 2010-11.

Superintendents of the two school district with the biggest jumps, Panther Valley and Jim Thorpe, both say the way the rates are figured factored into the increases.

Panther Valley saw its dropout rate change from 0.4 percent to 1.12 percent between 2004-05 and 2010-11.

Jim Thorpe's rate rose from 0.4 percent to 2.33 percent over the same time period.

Joe Brown, Director of Technology and Information Services for Jim Thorpe, said that "As far as dropouts ... students are tracked within the state system via a state-issued identification through the Pennsylvania Information Management System (PIMS). Students who have left the district and the state and do not notify us when they enroll in an out-of-state school are to be considered dropouts based on PDE's guidelines. With our transient population, these new dropout guidelines has had an impact on our reported dropout rate as well."

He also said that "PDE has changed the methodology in which the graduation/dropout rate is calculated, starting with the 2010-11 school year. This was done to match up with federal reporting guidelines. Prior to the changes, the graduation rate was determined by the percentage of seniors graduating each year.

"Jim Thorpe consistently had between 99-99.6 percent of seniors graduating over those years. With the change in calculation methodology, the graduation rate is determined by the number of students who graduate in a four- year time span. They are grouped in cohorts," he said.

"For example, this year's seniors are considered to be in the 2008-09 cohort, and only those students who started in 2008-09 and are graduating this year will count toward the cohort graduation rate. As we have students who may take an extra year due to missing credits, special education requirements and transfer students and do, in fact, graduate, they are not factored in to the calculation. The state will be adding calculation methodologies for a five-year graduation rate moving forward, but it will not impact the federal data that is submitted, as they require a four year rate," he said.

PDE spokesman Tim Eller said that the "definition of a dropout has not changed.

"The calculation for the dropout rate has not changed. What has changed is the ability of (PDE) to link data on an individual student basis, ensuring all students either graduate, transfer out, drop out or remain at the (Local Education Agency) for additional education," he said.

PDE's website includes the notice that "Data used in calculating dropout rates was collected via the Pennsylvania Information Management System (PIMS) starting in 2007-08. In prior years, this data was collected via the Public School Enrollment Report (ESPE) and the Public School Dropout Survey (EDGR). These instruments provided a 'snapshot' of the fall enrollment in grades 7 through 12 and the total number of dropouts in those grades throughout a single school year."