State economists publish a “Where are they now?” for Alaska high school grads

Bethel Regional High School students dance at their graduation ceremony in May 2016. (Photo by Dean Swope/KYUK)

According to federal data, about one in four high schoolers in Alaska doesn’t graduate, giving Alaska the sixth lowest graduation rate in the country.

But what about students who do graduate? What happens to them?

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State economists in the Alaska Department of Labor tracked thousands of Alaska grads and published a “Where are they now?” in this month’s Alaska Economic Trends.

“We used the Permanent Fund dividend records in order to match all the different data sets together,” Yuancie Lee, who led the research, said.

Of the roughly 7,000 people who graduated from Alaska high schools in 2005, he was able to match about 6,000 of them to data from the state departments of labor and education.

This study differs from others because it looks at people who graduated from Alaska high schools, whereas census data looks at all Alaska residents, whether they graduated in state or not.

Of the class of 2005, 37 percent went on to finish college within 10 years. That’s for two-year or four-year degrees.

“It’s difficult to gauge whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing,” Lee said. “When you look at census data we’re not that different than what’s expected. … A college education isn’t for everyone.”

The data show that, prior to graduation, students who don’t go to college earn more than those who do, but after graduation it flips.

Those with degrees start earning more at a faster rate. Three years after graduating, they’re earning about 16 percent more than the average Alaskan.

The top 10 employment industries for those with some and no college are roughly the same. College graduates, on the other hand, have a much wider range of occupations.

Lee said the Department of Labor hopes to run the study again as more data becomes available.