Study: Local area prepares next generation for success

A recent study by the Keystone Research Center shows that not only does Pennsylvania have more upward economic mobility than other parts of the country, but that the local residents have more of a chance to move upward than those in major cities such as Los Angeles, Calif., and New York, N.Y.

The study shows that a child from a family in Williamsport from the bottom fifth of income has an 11.1-percent chance of achieving an income in the top fifth. That is more than New York, where the chance is 9.7 percent; Los Angeles, 9.6 percent; Houston, Texas, 8.4 percent; and Boston, Mass., 9.8 percent.

The Greater Williamsport Area also has a higher average income percentile for those growing up in the 10th percentile. In Williamsport, those individuals are in the 44th percentile. Those in the same situation in the four major cities above, range from the 38th to 40th percentile.

Within the study’s 12 regions of Pennsylvania, Williamsport ranks fourth in percentage chance of earning a top fifth income, behind St. Mary’s, Altoona, and State College. But Williamsport is tied for first in the state with St. Mary’s for average income percentile.

Those interacting with students on a day-to-day basis and discussing post-secondary plans say students are looking at good career options, rather than studying a subject that doesn’t have high employability.

“I think that a lot of kids are seeing the value of having a major, and eventually a profession, where they will be able to find a job and pay off their college expenses,” said Verna Correll, a guidance counselor at South Williamsport Area High School.

Correll added that students are more “practical” when selecting their future career paths.

“I may want to be a certain major (in college) but unfortunately there’s no jobs out there so I’ll (choose another major instead). I think kids are smarter and more practical in thinking of their future,” Correll said.

“If (students) want to go to college and want education, they’re choosing careers that are employable,” added Carole Heckler, a Williamsport Area High School guidance counselor for the past 25 years.

And although the high school freshman population continues to be divided among having goals and having “no clue,” those who have a plan have researched their options.

Correll said having two colleges in the area, Lycoming College and Pennsylvania College of Technology, helps students look at college programs.

But it’s not just students who are more prepared – the schools may be doing a better job of showing them all of the options available for a career.

“I think as far as the kids’ perception, it’s still about the same. But in all honesty I think the schools are doing a better job with goals for the kids,” Heckler said.

Both counselors reported that students are able to take an interest inventory to see what career choices might align with their interests. Correll added that students are having numerous conversations with counselors and teachers as they go through their high school career.

Heckler noted they hold career nights and try to help students get the materials they need to make their decisions. Students are able to take the PSAT if they’re leaning toward college, and those who desire may take technical education courses and speak with military representatives.

There are also educational programs of which students may take advantage. Dual enrollment classes and advanced placement courses allow students to challenge themselves while also getting college experience and credit, Heckler said.

Dennis Correll, associate dean for admissions and financial aid for Penn College, said that more than 70 percent of Penn College students are first-generation college attendees.

Correll believes that when talking about the ability to gain additional income, the gas industry also is a resource for today’s generation of job-seekers. And it’s not only those working on the gas wells, but on the business side as well.

“It has just expanded opportunities for our students,” he said.

Dr. Jonathan Williamson, chairman of the political science department at Lycoming College, noted that studies, such as this one, aid communities in looking at what works and how they can improve upon those qualities.

“In studies such as this that find that particular factors are associated with particularly successful outcomes, local decision makers – whether they be parents at the family level, neighborhood, church or school leaders or public officials – can use such results as a starting point for discussing whether efforts should be taken to enhance their community on the basis of those factors,” Williamson told the Sun-Gazette.

But to continue giving future generations opportunities to move upward, nobody may lay on their laurels. The area must continue to improve programs for students.

“It’s educating the parents as well as the students about where the jobs are and how you can get there,” Heckler said.