Hundreds of graduates from Turlock, Pitman, Turlock Christian and Denair high schools donned traditional caps and gowns to receive their diplomas on Friday, joining their classmates in commencement ceremonies that have been held throughout the week and will continue into early June.
While these soon-to-be college students and new additions to the workforce are facing drastic cuts in higher education and cutthroat competition for the few jobs available, a recent survey suggests they are not worried.
In the last several weeks graduating seniors from Turlock Unified School District high schools completed a 20-question survey to determine the student's opinions about their future and their educational experience in TUSD.
The survey, initiated by the Turlock Journal, was refined and administered by TUSD officials. Nearly 945 graduating seniors answered the survey, a 90 percent participation rate.
One of the most telling aspects of the survey was that 70.6 percent of seniors believe they will eventually earn more money that their parents and 56.1 percent feel "optimistic" about their prospects for the future.
Surprisingly, only 26 percent of the seniors have changed their future plans because of the economic downturn. Nearly 43 percent have "somewhat" changed their plans.
"This was an amazing result of the survey. Regardless of the local or even global economy, you can't be dismayed, still have to shoot for your dreams, this too shall pass. The graduates of 2011 have the power to change things, as a collective group of grads they understand that later down the road after they complete college or whatever their plans are; things are going to be different, and it will get better," said Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Lacrisha Ferreria.
Parallel to seniors' beliefs of improved income status was that 84 percent of seniors listed their household income as less than $75,000 per year and 41.4 percent below $50,000 per year.
The overwhelming majority of seniors, 81 percent, plan on attending either junior college or a four-year university. A scant 5.6 percent plan on going into military service and 6.7 percent are going to vocational or technical schools.
Seniors appear to be learning the value of higher education as a result of their parents not attending college. Nearly 48 percent of seniors said neither of their parents attended college.
"We have such an diverse group of students, 84 percent of the household collected less than $75,000 a year, so they see that they can make a difference in their lives with higher education," said TUSD Superintendent Sonny Da Marto.
Playing a part of the high ratio of seniors planning to attend college is the impact their school environments have had on them. Nearly three out of four seniors said their high school education prepared them for the next few years after graduation and more than 64 percent directly attributed their success in high school to their teachers.
"This makes me feel like we as a district are doing a good job or preparing our students for the future, and it confirms our teachers are having a positive impact on their students," said Da Marto.
"I have to say, I wasn't surprised by that at all, our most valuable players are our teachers. Think about how much of a difference they can make in a young person's life. This just reinforces the fact that our teachers give their all because they realize they only have 180 days a year to make an impact and when it's over this is what it's all about, getting these kids graduated and moving on to new chapters in their lives," said Ferreria.
Amongst the students heading to higher education, 469 respondents indicated they have already selected their major area of studies. The largest of those majors was the medical field, which is the largest growing employment opportunity in the country. Besides the "other" category, criminal justice/ fire science was the second most popular major picked, followed by education and biological sciences.
The majority of seniors indicated that academic programs also contributed to their success. Electives, ROP programs, college preparatory and advanced placement classes provided plenty of opportunity for graduates over their K-12 education.
When it comes to choosing a college major, just over 73 percent of graduates pointed to "interest in the subject" as the reason for choice in major.
Even in this fragile economic state, seniors are going for their interest instead of chasing the majors that pay, an indication that hope springs eternal.
"These kids have their eye on the prize, it is truly awesome to think of what they can do when they chase and reach their dreams. This is going to be a generation of people who truly care about the world and society they live in. They know that they can change the world," said Ferreria.
After the summer most seniors will enter junior college at either Modesto Junior College or Merced College.
"While it's pretty typical for most seniors to go to junior college, I think the numbers are up because a lot of them are going to try and save money and get their general education at the junior college level," said Da Marto.
As with most students, monetary income (or the lack of it) will be one of the largest obstacles they must overcome on the road to success. Nearly 81 percent of seniors said they plan on working (77 percent part-time) and going to college, however 765 of the 862 respondents skipped the question "Do you have a job lined up after high school graduation?" Undoubtedly jobs, even typical "student" jobs, will be harder to come by.
Even with financial obstacles, graduates maintain their commitment to education and seniors see the benefit and value education can have. Nearly 46 percent of graduates came from families in which neither parent attended college.
In the coming years TUSD officials will look to improve senior surveys.
"We intend to keep the data year after year so we can see what areas we need to change or leave alone. It was a lot of valuable information and it will help us to continue to improve as a district," said Da Marto.
To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail email@example.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.