New CPE Report Connects High Schools to College Success

The Center’s latest report “High school rigor and academic advising: Setting up students to succeed” has already made some waves. As a matter of fact, the Chicago Tribune, The Christian Science Monitor, and Education Week have already written extensive articles about the report that show how high schools make a difference in whether or not their students go on to succeed in college.

The study found three main factors that affect postsecondary students’ chances of persisting from their 1st to 2nd year – even when you compare students from similar socioeconomic backgrounds and similar achievement levels.

  • Academic advising: For students in both two-year and four-year institutions, talking to an academic advisor in college either “sometimes” or “often” significantly improved their chances of persisting. Students in two-year institutions increased their chances of staying on track by as much as 53 percent just by meeting frequently with their academic advisor.
  • High-level mathematics: At four-year institutions, lower-income students who began high school with below average achievement were 22 percent more likely to persist if they had taken Pre-calculus or Calculus instead of only completing math up to Algebra II. For similar students in two-year institutions, their chances of persisting increased by 27 percent.
  • Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate courses: Taking an AP/IB course had a dramatic effect on students’ chances of persisting even when students fail the end-of-course test. Low achieving and low-income students who took an AP/IB course were 18 percent more likely to persist in four-year colleges and 30 percent more likely to persist in two-year colleges. The more courses a student took, the higher their persistence rates.
  • Other high school factors also impacted students’ persistence rates in college, including grade point average and the amount of time spent on homework in high school.

What makes these findings so important is the fact that it provides strong evidence that what high schools do does make a difference in whether their students are successful in college or not. It is no longer satisfactory for our high schools to simply get their students into college. Now, it is vital that our high schools prepare their students to succeed in college. They can do so by providing a rigorous curriculum including college level courses such as AP/IB that all students have access to and not just the top performing students. While the report found that academic advising at the college level had a huge impact on whether students persisted in college, high schools that provide counseling to their students to help them prepare for college can also go a long way to preparing their students for success in college.

High schools that provide such rigorous curriculums and supports would likely see significant improvements in the success of their students in college. However, they would likely see an even greater improvement in the success rates of their lower-income and lower-achieving students who go on to college. That is because low-income and low-achieving students benefit even more from being properly prepared in high school than do their higher-income and higher-achieving peers. So high schools can cut their college success gap nearly in half by providing all students with a rigorous curriculum and strong academic advising. – Jim Hull

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