SALEM -- West Virginia high school seniors have a college-going rate of about 50 percent, nearly 10 percent lower than the national average.
But a program at Salem-Teikyo University that encourages high school students to consider higher education has produced a much greater college-going rate.
"We have close to 90 percent of our seniors in the Upward Bound program enrolling in college, which shows that the program has quite an impact," said Rob Freedlander, director of the program at S-TU.
Upward Bound, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, targets high school students who have academic potential and who may need additional skills and some motivation to pursue a college degree.
The program specifically targets those students who are the first generation in their families to consider college.
"Only 12 percent of state residents over the age of 25 have earned a bachelor's degree, according to the 1990 census, so a great many high school students in the state are first-generation college-bound students," Freedlander said.
Students are accepted into the program as high school juniors, and remain in Upward Bound until graduation. The students are visited during the school year by program staff, who offer help with tutoring, scheduling, SAT preparation or college applications.
For six weeks during the summer, participants live in residence halls at S-TU, leaving only on the weekends. They take college preparatory classes, participate in recreation, go on field trips, socialize and get a basic taste of campus life.
About 60 high school students have been on campus for five weeks at S-TU, coming from Doddridge, Ritchie, Harrison, Upshur and Webster counties.
The academic program takes place in the morning, leaving the afternoon for art, drama, craft or music classes. Some students opt to work in the afternoons, doing jobs typically done by college work-study students.
The jobs are federally funded in cooperation with the state Governor's Summer Youth Program, Freedlander said.
Emily Blankenship, 17, from Webster County High School, spends the afternoons watering plants, washing lab equipment and harvesting seeds in the campus greenhouse. This is her second year in the Upward Bound program.
Blankenship said she doesn't mind giving up her summer, and the classes have proven helpful with her high school classes.
"This is a lot better than getting a regular summer job. There are a lot more opportunities here that you wouldn't get just staying in Webster County," she said.
Andrew Swiger, 16, from Lincoln High School, is in his first year of Upward Bound, and said he's enjoying it all, especially the guitar class, which he claims "is really cool."
"I think most of all I enjoy meeting new people and learning about next year's classes, and just seeing what campus life is like," he said.
Staff writer Gail Marsh can be reached at 626-1447.