In June 2013, the Mitchell Institute surveyed Maine high school principals and guidance counselors about student aspirations. We received 155 survey responses from 108 high schools—84% of Maine’s 129 public high schools–and 16 Career and Technical Education (CTE) Centers—representing 50% of Maine’s 28 CTEs. Key findings include:
1) Maine educators report that their communities encourage and value college education, but there is significant regional variation.
89% agree (including 31% that strongly agree) that a college education is valued in their school’s community. Agreement ranges from 75% in Hancock County to 100% in Cumberland County and Midcoast Maine.
88% agree (38% strongly agree) that their school’s community encourages young people to consider going to college. Agreement ranges from 71% in Western Maine to 100% in Cumberland, Midcoast, and Washington County.
2) Maine educators’ perceptions of their local labor markets vary widely across the state. The proportion of respondents agreeing that there are better jobs within their communities for young people with college degrees ranges from 25% in Hancock County to 94% in Cumberland County. College-going graduates are perceived as less likely than peers to stay in the local area.
While 75% of educators agree that there are better jobs in their community for people with college degrees than for those with only a high school education, 84% believe their graduates who do not go to college are more likely to stay in the local area after high school than are peers who go to college.
3) Many educators believe that we should begin meaningfully addressing aspirations with younger students than is current practice.
While more than three-quarters (77%) say that either elementary or middle grades is the ideal time to begin addressing college aspirations, only about one-half (49%) say their communities actually start addressing college aspirations before high school.
4) Exposure to college campuses and job-shadowing are the top two experiences educators wish they could provide more for students. When asked for ‘blue-sky’ thinking about effective actions to encourage aspirations, many educators also expressed a need for more guidance staff, financial aid counseling and application assistance, and better college-prep curricula in high school.
5) College completion rates are overestimated by educators. On average, educators predict that 55% of their graduates will complete a college degree within six years. For all Maine high school graduates in 2006, the actual six-year college completion rate was 37%.
6) 96% of respondents are interested in having Mitchell Scholars return to their schools to meet with students.
These survey results suggest that, to better support Maine students’ aspirations, we need to:
• More clearly demonstrate the connections between postsecondary education and the labor market both at home and beyond, and
• Start earlier to help students shape their plans for the future.