The portion of this year’s Wilkes County high school seniors planning to directly enter the workforce after graduating appears to be higher than the pre-pandemic norm, as was true for the local classes of 2020 and 2021.
More young people are going straight to full-time employment after graduating from high school nationwide due to increased availability of jobs, higher pay and higher costs of attending a four year college or university.
Survey responses of members of the class of 2022 at the five Wilkes public high schools indicated about 21% (114) would seek work instead of additional education at a two-year or four-year institution or enlist in the military.
Among this year’s 542 graduating seniors, 39 at North Wilkes High said they planned to enter the workforce instead of pursuing additional formal education. Eight in a graduating class of 78 at East Wilkes High indicated the same.
The 114 seniors without definite plans to seek more formal education or join the military also included 23 in a West Wilkes High graduating class of 128 who said they planned to enter the workforce or were undecided.
At Wilkes Central High, 13 who planned to enter the workforce and 15 who said they were unsure are included in the 114. Not included are nine who said they planned to enter a trade because it wasn’t clear if this meant first attending a training program. Kyrie Krenz, counselor at Wilkes Central, said only 144 out of 162 in the school’s graduating class responded to a survey about post-graduation plans.
At Wilkes Early College High, the 114 included five who planned to enter the workforce and 11 who said they planned to take a “gap year.” WECHS had a graduating class of 48.
Surveys of Wilkes high school seniors earlier in the pandemic showed 21% planned to enter the workforce in 2020 and 26% in 2021.
In 2017, 13% of seniors planned to enter the workforce, 11% in 2018 and 11% again in 2019.
About half (276) of this year’s seniors said they planned to attend a two-year community or technical college, including 82 at West Wilkes, 57 at East Wilkes, five at WECHS and 66 at both Wilkes Central and North Wilkes. Most of these will go to Wilkes Community College.
About half of the members of the classes of 2017 through 2021 also planned to attend a two-year community or technical college. This ranged from a high of 56% in 2018 to a low of 49% in 2020.
About 19% (103) of the members of the class of 2022 planned to attend a four-year public university or private college. This included 34 at Wilkes Central, 27 at WECHS, 20 at West Wilkes and 11 at both North Wilkes and East Wilkes.
About 18% of seniors in the class of 2020 planned to attend a four-year public university and 4% a private four-year college the year after graduating from high school. About 15% in the class of 2021 planned to attend a four-year public university and 4.4% a private four-year college.
Among members of the class of 2019, 16% planned to attend a four-year public university. These were the plans of 14% of seniors in the class of 2018 and 20% in the class of 2017.
Thirteen in this year’s local graduating class said they plannned to enlist in the military, including seven at Wilkes Central (more than normal), three at West Wilkes, two at East Wilkes and one at North Wilkes.
The five Wilkes high schools combined had about 651 graduating seniors in 2021, 630 in 2020, 690 in 2019, 752 in 2018, 675 in 2017 and 646 in 2016. The class of 2018 was among the largest in Wilkes since the late 1980s.
School officials say it’s hard to obtain data showing what students actually end up doing after they graduate. Information gathered before graduation at the very least reflects general trends.