BROOKSVILLE - Not only are more Hernando County high school students graduating with a diploma or GED, but those who go to college are excelling in more advanced courses. However, fewer of those graduates are attending post-graduate institutions.
Florida Department of Education data shows there were about 17 percent more Hernando County high school graduates attending advanced college math courses in 2011 than in 2004.
Hernando County School District data for 2012 shows the increase in college-level achievement is coupled with a historical decline in Hernando County graduates who enroll in and complete remedial math, reading and writing courses at the college level.
"That probably comes from the fact that all the high schools offer advanced placement classes, so the kids have an idea of the quality and quantity of work in a college setting than perhaps before," said Springstead principal Susan Duval. "You have that sense of comfortableness and what this is all about when you arrive on a college campus."
The data also shows the percentage of graduates who enrolled in and completed post-secondary remedial math decreased by as much as 19 percent since 2004, surpassing the state average in 2005. Most recent FDOE figures show the district now has about 2 percent fewer high school graduates in remedial college math than the state average.
The district also reduced its number of graduates attending remedial college reading and writing courses by more than 7 percent since 2004, when 87.8 percent of graduates took the course. The district first surpassed the state average in 2007 at 79.3 percent to the state's 80.5 percent.
Hernando County high schools also have increased in the numbers of students graduating with a diploma or GED since 2004, FDOE data shows, increasing or decreasing between 50 to 200 graduates in the span of eight years. For example, Hernando County had 486 more graduates with these certifications in 2011 than in 2004.
While data supports that students are performing better at the college level, data also supports less graduates are attending college. The number of graduates to enroll in a Florida post-secondary school the fall following their graduation has steadily declined since 2007, when 49 percent of graduates were enrolled, according to DOE figures.
In 2010, that figure dropped to 43 percent of graduates, but has been gradually improving. In comparison to the state average, the state rate has remained between 3 to 8 percent greater than in Hernando County.
Business Development Director Mike McHugh said the county's recent efforts to strengthen education opportunities for advanced degrees and certifications should change that and in turn improve the county's economy.
"Every increment of education that is achieved really is important, and that's been one of the key points in our economic development plan," McHugh said. "It's a very well researched and understood methodology, but if you can move on a high school graduate, whether through a GED or diploma and a technical degree, every one of those has documented benefits."
McHugh said improving high school graduation rates, coupled with the new adult education programs available in the county, should allow for more industry certification and advanced degrees.
"The county has done historically well with two-year education degrees, but we were falling off with four-year programs," he said. "I think the Pasco-Hernando Community College offering bachelor degrees is going to move that level for us to the bachelor level and beyond, so I think access to those quality programs is really important for those numbers."
It won't happen instantaneously, McHugh said, since it takes time to educate and graduate the work force.
"But pretty much having it available and affordable is a rock-solid proposition," he said.
The gains in college-level achievement also correspond to a more than 4 percent increase in 10th grade proficiency scores for FCAT reading and math over the last eight years, according to FDOE figures.
Increasing graduation rates is one of four main goals new School Superintendent Lori Romano has for the district. Romano could not be reached for comment.