A student walks past Hooper and Race Halls, two of the oldest classroom buildings on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus.

By the numbers:

The percentage of Hamilton County students to attend a two or four year college

2016: 76%

2015: 71%

2014: 67%

2013: 72%

2012: 60%

2011: 69%

2010: 57%

2005: 58%

Source: Hamilton County Department of Education and the Public Education Foundation

Top schools for 2016 county graduates:

1. Chattanooga State Community College, 701 students

2. University of Tennessee of Chattanooga, 259 students

3. University of Tennessee, 149 students

4. Middle Tennessee State University, 92 students

5. East Tennessee State University, 90 students

6. Chattanooga State TCAT, 72 students

7. Austin Peay State University, 31 students

8. Lee University, 29 students

9. Cleveland State Community College, 25 students

10. Tennessee State University, 17 students

Source: Hamilton County Department of Education and the Public Education Foundation

More students than ever are enrolling in college after graduating from Hamilton County Schools, according to data released Thursday. 

About 76 percent of the county's 2016 spring graduates enrolled in a two- or four-year college last fall, which is about a 5 percent increase 2015.

"We are seeing more and more students having more and more options," said Dan Challener, president of the Public Education Foundation. 

In 2005, the Hamilton County Department of Education and PEF began tracking the number of high school graduates that went to college, and at the time, just 58 percent of the county's students were enrolling in two- or four-year institutions. 

Hamilton County Schools Interim Superintendent Kirk Kelly said the increase is the result of collaboration.

"This is an excellent example of the entire community coming together," Kelly said.

Challener added that the community has increased awareness about the benefits of earning a post-secondary degree through initiatives like Chattanooga 2.0 and programs like STEP-UP Chattanooga, which provides low-income high school students with paid summer internships. Colleges and technical schools have also gotten better at recruiting students, and Tennessee Promise offers a free two-year degree from any of the state's 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology, or any eligible institution offering an associate's degree.

Despite the large share of Hamilton County graduates enrolling in two- or four-year colleges, just about 50 percent of those that enroll will earn a degree within six years, data shows. And just 38 percent of county residents have any post-secondary degree or credential, preventing them from holding many of the jobs paying more than $35,000 in the county. 

Challener said the business community and local colleges are working to find ways to better support and incentivize students to finish their diploma or credential. 

Stacy Lightfoot, PEF vice president of college and career success, said it's important that students don't just go to any college, but find the place that is the right fit for them.

The district's college and career advisors, which are placed at every high school, are a huge reason more students are choosing to continue their education, Lightfoot said. These college and career counselors are helping match the right school with the right students, and are constantly keeping up with trends and new programs at colleges across the country. 

"The more the advisers know the more they can pass information on to a students' friends and family," Lightfoot said, which helps overcome some of the barriers that make it difficult for students to apply for college. 

Cindy Adamz, college and career adviser at Soddy-ADaisy High School, said she loves being able to tell students about new schools and careers options they hadn't considered.

Years ago Adamz helped raise money for a very bright, low-income student to visit numerous Ivy League schools.  The student had never been far outside of Chattanooga and was in-shock visiting cities like Boston, but eventually ended up graduating from Harvard and has a successful career in California, she added.

Justin Robertson, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said as a principal at Red Bank High School is was important to provide students with vision for the future.

He said the district is working to help excite and prepare students for life after high school sooner. For example, the district's Mechatronics and Polytechnic Academies allow high school students to start earning industry credentials along with their high school diploma.

Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at 423-757-6592 or Follow on Twitter @kendi_and.