Foundation praises SAD 17 efforts to boost college enrollment

OXFORD— District efforts to boost the enrollment of college-bound high school graduates from Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School were praised by a higher education loan provider.

Wendy Ault, director of the Maine Educational Loan Marketing Corporation Education Foundation, told SAD 17 directors Tuesday night that the district initiatives to improve enrollment in post-secondary education were proactive and specifically focused on its community.

“Oxford Hills has taken these best practices and implemented programs that are true to Oxford Hills,” Ault said.

The district, Ault said, was making strides to reduce the  so-called “summer melt” – the drop off between graduating high school seniors intending to enroll and those who actually do – by increasing college visits, holding forums for seniors to discuss college experiences with alumni, and awarding tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships every year.

MELMAC awards grants to initiatives around the state encouraging students to attend some form of post-secondary education. The foundation is a subsidiary group of MELMAC, Maine’s newest and largest unaffiliated foundation in Maine with a $28 million portfolio, according to their website.

Since 2001, the foundation has made $1,500 scholarships available to a graduating senior at every high school in Maine. According to Ault, OHCHS is the only school in Maine to select a student every year.

One recurrence the district was taking aim at was narrowing the gap between students who failed to enroll in a two-year college program, which traditionally runs at a higher percentage than students who do not end up attending a four-year university, Ault said.

According to Ault, since 2005 about 9.1 percent of OHCHS students – 172 total – ended up backing out after reporting their intent to enroll in a two- or four-year college. According to Maureen Howard, director of the Community Education  Exchange, apathy for school grows over the summer, and students who say they are going to enroll, don’t.

To improve the scenario last summer, OHCHS students planning to attend two-year community college were invited to tour Central Maine Community College and experience, for a day, campus life. According to Howard, that trip paid dividends in convincing students to attend school: of 30 or so students, only two did not enroll in a post-secondary program.

“I think it’s been a great program for our kids, giving them the opportunity to get on a campus, walking that campus,” OHCHS Principal Ted Moccia said.

“When you see their eyes light up and see themselves in that [college] situation, it becomes very real for them,” Moccia said.

In 2012 OHCHS had an enrollment gap of 13.6 percent, over half of which was comprised of two-year college students; in 2013 those numbers shrunk to 10.9 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively, according to statistics provided by MELMAC.

Compared to the rest of the school districts receiving grant money from MELMAC, it appears the district still faces challenges. Over a spread of seven years dating back to 2005, the high school had a lower percentage of students enrolling in college than its peers, and in four of those years a higher enrollment gap. State-wide figures comparing the district to schools around Maine were not immediately available.