Senior Ashley Hamblin poses for a photo with LBCC mascot’s “Rocky the Roadrunner” during Tuesday’s College Application Week activities at Philomath High School. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

In the hallway that leads from Philomath High’s front office to the gymnasiums, a board hangs on the wall with names of students who have applied to college.

As of this past Tuesday, about 20 names had already appeared — not a bad number considering the Class of 2023 has fewer than 100 students and it’s just mid-November. Continuing down the hallway, two other boards provide space to display photos of students with descriptions of their plans after high school — whether that involves a traditional two- or four-year college, trade school, military service and so on.

The displays serve as an example of the college-centered culture that has developed through the years at Philomath High. In these times as the nation tries to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic and college costs continue to rise, what can be found on the local campus bucks the national trend.

College enrollment has seen a consistent annual decline since 2020, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported last month. That decline did level out a bit with this fall’s undergraduate enrollment numbers comparable to pre-pandemic levels.

A slowdown of high school seniors considering a post-secondary education has not really been seen at Philomath.

“From what I’m seeing of the seniors, the vast majority are probably going to go,” Drennen said early last week during the school’s College Application Week. “We have about 91 seniors and I just looked at the list and I bet a good 75% to 80% will go. Philomath High School typically has a strong going-to-college culture, which is awesome.”

Not all of those names are up on the hallway board just yet as many students begin to work toward finalizing their plans. That’s part of the idea behind College Application Week.

“Of course, we also have some students who are just going to go straight to work. We see that with some of our students who are part of family businesses in the area (logging or welding, for example),” Drennen said. “There are always students who go straight into the military right after school.”

Senior Ty May stopped by for a quick chat with Western Oregon University. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Linn-Benton Community College, which has a major presence at Philomath High through partnerships, is seeing enrollment bounce back. Stephanie Jorgensen, LBCC outreach specialist, visits the Philomath, Lebanon, Sweet Home and Scio campuses each week to make herself available to students to complete all of the steps needed to prepare for college.

“We are seeing enrollment increases,” Jorgensen said. “My specific role is to motivate rural communities … and from that, we’re getting a lot of positive responses and students that may not have had those conversations but now they’re kind of delving into them on a weekly basis with me.”

During the week, Drennen also makes herself available all day for students who need help with their Common App, which is a portal that can be used to apply to some 1,000 colleges from a single common application, as well as doing edits to admission essays.

The most visible component to College Application Week is the series of daily campus visits from colleges and universities in the region. It got started this past Monday with the University of Oregon, New Hope Christian College and Linfield University on campus. On Tuesday, Linn-Benton Community College, Western Oregon University and Warner Pacific University were available to students. On Wednesday, Pacific University and Bushnell University were on site. And on Thursday, Oregon State University was at the school along with information for students on the LBCC Degree Partnership Program with OSU.

There were no classes on Friday with Veterans Day so the fifth day carried over to this coming Monday with Southern Oregon University and Portland State University scheduled to appear.

“It’s all day long and students just drop in at their convenience,” Drennen said.

In addition, all seniors listened to a financial aid presentation during their homeroom period.

“The purpose of College Application Week is to create hype and energy for the students, to motivate them to apply to whichever schools they are looking for and of course, I’m encouraging LBCC,” Jorgensen said. “The concept is that whole word-of-mouth and generating that energy so you get those applications in. That way, they can receive their acceptance letters before the holidays, celebrate with their families and start preparing for the future.”

PHS senior Kelston Austin appears to be one of those students headed to LBCC. He’s working hard on making a future for himself.

“It’s a good transition because from what I’ve heard from the program at LBCC, if you do good enough in the program, they’ll just get you a job, which is exactly what I want,” Austin said. “I want to go into the trades, specifically the engineering route because it has always interested me. Also because I’ve heard that Oregon has a shortage of people … out in the field and I’m 100% OK with that — that’s what I’ve wanted to go into originally.”

Making the decision to continue his education has not been easy.

“I’ve been fighting it for a while about what I want to do because it’s a big decision,” Austin said. “Personally, I don’t like school that much but I do understand why it’s important and it’s been that fight of do I want to go to college?”

Senior Madison Parker had some of those same thoughts.

“For the longest time, I wasn’t going to go to college … I was going to go into caregiving, which you don’t necessarily need a college degree to do,” Parker said. “But with getting a college degree, it gives me more benefits towards after high school and to go further in life.”

Parker has already applied to seven colleges but stopped by College Application Week activities to consider other options. She’s looking at majoring in psychology.

“I want to work with life skills — I’ve had my heart there since forever,” Parker said. “And just getting more into the sciences because there’s not very many things I need to go into that program. So I’m just figuring out the sciences behind the behavior.”

Senior Khyra Cory is a student who has known her post-high school path for quite some time. She already applied to Portland State but also wanted to check out other options during the week’s activities. Pursuing a college degree has been a longtime dream for Cory, who wants to major in psychology with an interest in Child Protective Services and social work.

“Honestly, since the eighth grade, I’ve known that I wanted to major in psychology,” she said. “I wasn’t sure about my minor but I knew that I wanted to either go to Portland State or go to British Columbia, like Vancouver. I’ve had my plan … I’m pretty set.”

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.

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