WOOSTER -- Throughout area schools, particularly since the advent of the state-mandated Career Connections program and the local initiation of Manufacturing Day, the pendulum has been swinging between college and career as options for students graduating from high school.
Career Connections begins exploration of occupations as early as students' primary years, and Manufacturing Day exposes students to the advantages of a lifetime career in that field.
At Wooster High School, the percentage of students entering college -- two-year or four-year, the work force or the military, or pursuing other pursuits, such as mission work, AmeriCorp or a gap year abroad, has remained relatively stable since 2014.
Moving on to post-secondary education in 2014 was 70 percent of Wooster's student population; in 2015, 70 percent; 2016, 74 percent; and 2017, 70 percent once again.
The proportion of the Wooster High student body entering the work force upon graduation was 20 percent in 2014; 13 percent in 2015; 19 percent in 2016; and 18 percent in 2017.
Those Wooster students joining the military fluctuated from 3 percent in 2014 to 5 percent in 2015 and back to 3 percent in 2016 and 2017.
At Northwestern High School, said Superintendent Jeffrey Layton, "The most notable items of our graduating class of 2017 included (the) 59 percent immediately moving on to college ... about 11 percent lower than the 70 percent we have been seeing in recent years."
"... our average for college and military combined immediately following high school has been in the 75 percent vicinity," Layton said.
On the college track, "the 482 college credits earned by these (2017) seniors in high school is a record, and we anticipate this nearly doubling in the next year or two to over 1,000 earned college credits with future graduating classes."
"Our statistics are pretty stable from year-to-year," said Triway guidance counselor Kimberly Mitchell, although "our associate degree-seeking numbers have been going up slowly over the past few years."
Overall, across the county, among 2017 graduates, the population going to college ranged from 43 percent from West Holmes High School to 79 percent from Norwayne, with an average of 65.9 percent among all of the high schools in Wayne and Holmes counties.
Students entering the work force ranged from a high of 52 percent in West Holmes to a low of 14 percent in Smithville, with the average of 25 percent.
The average percentage of students joining the military across the county in 2017 was 5 percent.
Across the country, according to an article published in April by the National Bureau of Labor and Statistics concerning "college enrollment and work activity of 2016 high school graduates, "In October 2016, 69.7 percent of 2016 high school graduates were enrolled in colleges or universities ...."
Matt Brown, principal of the Wayne County Schools Career Center, pointed out, "It's not a one-size-fits-all. We're all on the same team" in "trying to provide the best opportunities for (student) success."
Sometimes it's a matter of acquainting students with a possibility with which they probably weren't even familiar. Unknown to him, for example, were the opportunities in the area of water treatment, an option Brown learned about through Leadership Wooster.
"There is high need and no one to take the jobs," Brown said, adding, the advantage of holding a Manufacturing Day, as does Wayne County, is "getting kids in there (to job sites)."
Health Care Day is another asset, he pointed out, once again "getting (students) exposed to what's going on behind the walls (of work settings)."
"A lot of businesses will hire you, and they'll send you to college," said Brown, who is excited that one of the Career Center's initiatives for the 2017-18 school year is a pre-apprenticeship program with LuK USA.
The Career Center also gives its students "a foot in the (work force) door" with its chapter of Drug-Free Clubs of America and its Bring Your A Game to Work program for teaching soft skills. Drug-free employees with a good work ethic have been a request of local manufacturers and businesses.
In terms of gauging the impact of Manufacturing Day in introducing students to the advantages of a career in manufacturing, "what we're trying to do is get to actual numbers," said Justin Starlin, president of the Wooster Area Chamber of Commerce. "That's the goal."
In working more closely with schools and using Internet analytics, he said, information will become available on students remaining in Wayne County and signing on with its companies.
"That's where it's headed," Starlin said. But in the meantime, interest in Manufacturing Day over several years hasn't waned, as shown by the fact "we haven't lost any manufacturers or any schools" that have participated.
"We've seen a positive response," he said, and "continue to advance the program."
Jean Roberts, Career Connections consultant for Tri-County Educational Service Center, said impact may be measured by "change to career tech enrollment since establishing opportunities like Manufacturing Day."
Being more specific about a measurable outcome by the end of the next school year "is one of the main reasons we are participating in the 'Student Success Dashboard' pilot program for ODE (Ohio Department of Education)," Roberts said. "My hope is that by the end of the next school year, that data will be available through the dashboard," which will disseminate comprehensive student statistics.
Reporter Linda Hall can be reached at email@example.com or 330-264-1125, Ext. 2230. She is @lindhallTDR on Twitter.