REDMOND, Ore. - High School graduation: It's a benchmark in a young person's life.
But a new report from the U.S. Department of Education released Monday shows Oregon has the fourth worst four-year graduation rate in the nation. Just 68 percent of seniors earned a high school diploma last year.
And among the state's 25 biggest districts, Redmond has the second-worst four year graduation rate, only 49 percent.
But Redmond School District officials aren't too concerned with that figure.
"(The) 49 percent (graduation rate) may sound low to someone who doesn't know about the programs we offer in Redmond," said David Burke, the district's director of secondary education. " But really, our focus in Redmond is our five-year graduation rate."
If you take a closer look, Redmond's graduation rates are much higher; it's just the matter of years to graduate and the type of degree that comes with it.
The Redmond School District pushes its Advanced Degree Option, a five-year plan that has a 68 percent graduation rate, and a lucrative incentive -- credit for college-level classes.
""It's a great draw for our district, and the kids really benefit from it," Burke said. "I think last year over 2,000 college credits were earned for free for those students."
Burke says the program has been around for about five years, and says it's crucial to provide high school students more specialized courses, to spark the interest in college and new careers before they don that cap and gown.
"Kids are saying they don't participate in school, or they don't follow through in graduation for a lot of reasons," Burke said. "And the three top are they don't have connections with adults, the coursework doesn't seem relevant to them, and they're not connected in the community."
That's something Burke said the advanced degree option is changing
"College- and career-ready is our big thing, and we want to make sure every kid coming through our system has options," he said.
Burke said more than 120 students opted for the advanced degree last year, and with each new year, more college credits are earned.
In addition to basic college entry-level courses, the district also offers career-minded courses in fields such as culinary arts and engineering design.
"We're trying to remove the barriers between, 'Okay I'm just taking a math class that involves paper, pencil, test and those kind of things,' to an actual class where kids are building things and participating," Burke said.