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October 8, 2013

You don’t need to go to Harvard to benefit from college

Some parents and policymakers are uncomfortable with the recent emphasis in education policy on college readiness, which is typified by the adoption of the Common Core State Standards in 45 states. Reason likely being, the term college-ready is synonymous with preparing students for four-year postsecondary institutions like Harvard or their state’s flagship university. As the rhetoric behind the push to graduate all students college-ready typically revolves around graduating more students with a four-year degree, it is no wonder there is such apprehension.

It is absolutely true that not all students are meant or want to go to Harvard or any other four-year institution. Yet, it is clear most of today’s students will need education beyond high school to obtain a job to sustain a middle-class lifestyle. However, college-readiness goes beyond preparing all students to earn a four-year degree; it’s about preparing students to earn two-year degrees as well. A new report brings to light this fact by finding that community college graduates earn on-average $259,000 more over their working lifetime than those who only earn a high school degree. As a result, community college graduates pay $67,000 more in taxes. Moreover, community college graduates are less likely to need government assistance– such as unemployment benefits– as they are less likely to be unemployed as well.

Drawing attention to the success of community college graduates is critically important to promoting the fact that college-readiness is not just about preparing students for Harvard. The importance of the affordability and the technical training provided by our nation’s community colleges should not be overlooked. However, as my previous report on international college attainment rates showed, the U.S. does a decent job preparing students to earn a four-year degree but falls well short when it comes to the attainment of two-year degrees. If we as a nation focus on significantly improving the college attainment rates for our two-year colleges, the U.S. would not only once again be among the global leaders in college-attainment but it would also have a significant impact on the nation’s economy as well. – Jim Hull

September 26, 2013

Despite plateau in overall scores, minority students are more prepared for college

While the overall flat nature of the scores are nothing to celebrate, a closer look at the latest SAT data shows public schools are doing a better job preparing poor and minority students for college according to the 2013 SAT Report on College Readiness released today. 

Although scores for minority students have increased, it is important to point out that huge gaps remain between minority students and their white classmates. The results show that minority students are not completing the rigorous courses they need not only to score higher on the SAT but to prepare them to get into and succeed in college.

Just as the ACT showed last month, these results show schools need to double and even triple their efforts in making sure all students are adequately prepared for college-level work. To do so, high schools need to ensure that all students are taking the courses they need to succeed in college. Unfortunately, as CPE’s latest report Out of Sync found, most states do not require the courses students need to succeed in college as a high school graduation requirement. As more graduates plan on enrolling in college, it is more important than ever that a high school diploma represent a student who is ready for higher education, whether at a two or four-year institution. – Jim Hull

The Findings

National Scores

  • The nation’s graduating Class of 2013 had an average composite score of 1498, which is unchanged from 2012 (1500) but significantly lower than 2009 (1505).
    • At a score of 1498, an average high school graduate has about a 75 percent chance of getting admitted into a competitive four-year college.*
  • Scores remained unchanged in all three sections over the past year. Just as in 2012, scores were 496 in Critical Reading, 514 in Math, and 488 in Writing for 2013.   
  • Scores improved for most racial/ethnic groups.
    • The average combined Hispanic student score was 1354 in 2013, which is three points higher than in 2012 and nine points lower than in 2008.
    • The average black student score was 1278 in 2013, which is five points higher than in 2012 and two points lower than in 2008.
    • The average white student score was 1576 in 2013, which is two points lower than in 2012 and three points lower than in 2008.

College Readiness

  • Nearly half (43 percent) of the test-takers met the SAT College-Ready Benchmark in 2013, which is unchanged from the year prior and slightly lower than in 2009 (44 percent).
    • The SAT College Ready Benchmarks represent a student who scores a combined 1550 or higher. Students hitting this benchmark have a 65 percent chance of earning a B-minus grade point average in their freshman year courses.
  • Minority students are less likely to be college ready.
    • Just 15.6 of black students and 23.5 percent of Hispanic students were college ready according to the SAT’s Benchmark.
    • However, both black and Hispanic students saw increases in reaching the SAT Benchmark from 2012 to 2013.

Core Course Rigor

  • Seventy-five percent of SAT test-takers completed the recommended “core” college-preparatory curriculum, which is an increase from 70 percent in 2001.
    • Just 66 percent of black students and 70 percent of Hispanic students completed the core curriculum, compared to 80 percent of white students.
    • However, both black and Hispanic students saw a one percentage point increase in core curriculum completion rates since 2012.
  • High school graduates who took math or English AP or Honors courses scored significantly higher than students who complete four or more year’s worth in each subject, not only in the relevant subject area, but in all three SAT sections.

Test Takers

  • Just over 1.66 million students from the Class of 2013 took the SAT sometime during their high school which was a slight dip from 2012.
  • Slightly more minority students are taking the SAT.
    • In 2013, 17 percent of SAT test-takers were Hispanic which was the same as in 2012, but greater than the 12 percent in 2008.
    • Thirteen percent of SAT test-takers were black in 2013 which was the same as in 2012, but greater than the 11 percent in 2008.
    • The percent of test-takers who were white continues to drop from 57 percent in 2008 to 51 percent in 2012 to just 50 percent in 2013.
  • A greater number of students whose first language isn’t English are taking the SAT.
    • In 2013 13 percent of SAT test-takers’ first language was not English compared to 9 percent in 2008.
  • The vast majority (82 percent) of SAT test-takers want to earn at least a Bachelor’s degree, up from 75 percent a decade ago.

For more information on how to use college entrance exam scores to evaluate your school, check out the Center’s Data First Web site.

September 18, 2013

School counselors, achievement gaps and the Student Support Act

CongressThe Student Support Act was introduced to Congress on January 18, 2013. The legislation would require the Department of Education to send matching state grants of at least $1 million to increase the number of counselors and psychologists in K-12 public schools. While this policy was designed to benefit all students, it also presents an opportunity to alleviate a troubling achievement gap fact: most high-achieving, low-income students don’t apply to the quality of college they’re eligible for.  Most settle for something less and many don’t apply at all. This trend is usually attributed to a lack of guidance and knowledge regarding available resources. If the number of counselors increased in poor communities both of these barriers could diminish. Furthermore, as CPE’s High School Rigor and Good Advise found, counselors not only help students get into college, but for those students to succeed in college as well.

Before examining the impact of school counselors, a closer look at the Student Support Act is in order. Support for the bill stemmed from a glut of studies showing that counselor-to-student ratios were out of control in American schools. As described in a recent U.S. News article, the national average ratio is 470 students for every one counselor—almost twice the 250-to-1 ratio that the American Counseling Association recommends. The article goes on to describe the 1,000-2,000 student caseloads that some California schools face and relay the fact that not all states regulate these dynamics.

The consequences of overworked counselors are dire for academically successful, low-income public school students. Reports from the Brookings Institute and Stanford University demonstrate that when these students are eligible for selective colleges, they rarely apply. The reports state that the majority of students don’t seize the opportunity because they are unaware of their eligibility, fear they cannot afford tuition, or aren’t pushed to explore rigorous universities. In essence, opportunities to defy historical education disparities are lost due to misinformation and insufficient encouragement.

Counselors can alleviate these barriers in a number of ways. First, they can help establish a schedule for completing components of college applications. While some students don’t need guidance, the aforementioned reports suggest that many would benefit from a predetermined structure that sets early deadlines for admissions essays, school transcripts, college entrance exams, teacher recommendations and other important deliverables. With deadlines in place, counselors can check in on progress, ask parents to help monitor from home and ensure that students are applying to schools that match their qualifications. They can also explain the numerous and, often times, complex financial-aid options that are available for impoverished families.

None of the necessary support or encouragement is feasible with an average counselor caseload that doubles the recommended amount. The Student Support Act addresses these concerns by empowering schools to hire more counselors and better support their students. Last April, Congress referred the bill to the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education where it currently awaits a vote. With overwhelmed counselors and high-achieving public school students hanging in the balance, education leaders would be wise to encourage that a vote takes place sooner rather than later.

~Jordan Belton

August 21, 2013

Good news, bad news from latest ACT results

ACT results for the Class of 2013 were released today and despite the drop in overall scores, more high school graduates are prepared for college. The decline in scores may be due to the fact for the first time ACT is including students who required accommodations, such as more time to take test, in the overall results as well as the fact that there as a dramatic increase in test-takers because both groups likely consist of a number of lower-performing students.

With that in mind, although scores declined it is important to point out that the percent of graduates considered “college ready” in all four subjects increased, and has been increasing for several years even though many more traditionally disadvantaged graduates are now taking the ACT. This shows our high schools are graduating more students ready to succeed in college.

But the results also show that progress has been slow and uneven between subgroups, requiring schools to double and even triple their efforts in making sure all students are adequately prepared for college-level work. To do so, high schools need to ensure that all students are taking the courses they need to succeed in college. Unfortunately, as CPE’s latest report Out of Sync found, most states do not require the courses students need to succeed in college for students to earn a high school diploma. As more graduates plan on enrolling in college, it is more important than ever that a high school diploma represent a student who is ready for higher education, whether it as a two-year or four-year institution. – Jim Hull

Below is summary of the major findings from the 2013 ACT report

National Scores

  • The nation’s graduating Class of 2013 had an average composite score of 20.9, which was a decrease from the 21.1 from both 2012 and 2009.
    • At this score, an average high school graduate has about a 72 percent chance of getting admitted into a good college.*
  • Scores decreased by two-tenths of a point on the reading (21.1), math (20.9) and science (20.7) tests between 2012 and 2013, while scores on the English (20.2) test declined by three-tenths of a point.
  • Scores declined for every ethnic/racial group.
    • White graduates saw a decrease of two-tenths of a point between 2012 and 2013 (22.4 to 22.2).
    • The average black graduate score was 16.9.0 in 2013, which was one-tenth lower than in 2012 but the same as in 2009.
    • The average Hispanic graduate score was 18.8 in 2013, which was a tenth of point lower than in 2012 but a tenth of a point higher than in 2009.

State Scores

  • Of the 31 states where at least 40 percent of graduates took the ACT:
    • Minnesota achieved the highest composite score of 23.0.
      • 74 percent of Minnesota graduates took the ACT
    • Idaho, Iowa, and Wisconsin had the next highest scores of 22.1 apiece.
  • Of the nine states where 100 percent of graduates took the ACT:
    • Utah had the highest score at 20.7, followed by Illinois (20.6) and Colorado (20.4).
    • Tennessee (19.5), Louisiana (19.5), and North Carolina (18.7) had the lowest scores out of this group.

College Readiness

  • Twenty-six percent of 2013 high school graduates were college ready in all four ACT subject tests (English, Reading, Math, and Science), which is one percentage point increase from 2012 and a 3 percentage point increase from 2009.
    • Of the 31 states that had at least 40 percent of their graduates take the ACT, Minnesota and Michigan were the only state where more than 50 percent of their graduates were college ready in at least three of four subjects.
    • Less than 30 percent of graduates in, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Mississippi, & Tennessee were college ready in three of four subjects.
    • Graduates who achieve these benchmarks are ready to succeed in first-year, credit-bearing college courses in the specific subjects ACT tests, according to ACT research. “Success” is defined as a 75% likelihood of earning a ‘C’ or better in the relevant course.
  • Black and Hispanic graduates are less likely to be college ready than their white peers.
    • The percent of black graduates meeting all four benchmarks remained at 5 percent between 2012 and 2013 while the percent of Hispanic students increased from 13 to 14 percent.
    • However, these percentages are much lower than the 33 percent of white graduates who met all four benchmarks in 2013 which is up from 32 percent in 2012.
  • Between 2012 and 2013, the percentage of graduates who scored at or above the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks increased from 31 percent to 36 percent in science, but declined in the other three subject areas.
    • Over the same time period there was an eight percentage point drop in the proportion of graduates who were college-ready in reading (52 to 44 percent), a three percentage point drop in English (67 to 64 percent) and a two percentage point drop in math (46 to 44 percent).

Core Course Rigor

  • Seventy-four percent of ACT test-takers completed the recommended “core” college-preparatory curriculum, which is down from 76 percent in 2012 but still significantly higher than the 70 percent in 2009.
  • High school graduates who completed a core curriculum earned composite test scores 2.7 to 3.1 points higher than graduates who did not complete a core curriculum.
    • A three point increase in an ACT score for an average graduate increases his or her chances of getting admitted into a good college from 72 percent to 81 percent.*
  • Black and Hispanic graduates were less likely to have completed a core curriculum than white graduates.
    • While 76 percent of white graduates complete a core curriculum, just 69 percent of black graduates and 72 percent of Hispanic graduates did so.

Test Takers

  • About 54 percent of all 2013 high graduates took the ACT, compared to 52 percent in 2012 and 45 percent in 2009.
  • More minority graduates are taking the ACT.
    • In 2013, nearly 28 percent of ACT test-takers were Hispanic or black, compared to 22 percent in 2009.
    • Furthermore, the percentage of test-takers who were white decreased between 2009 and 2013, from 64 percent to 58 percent.

For more information on how to use college entrance exam scores to evaluate your school, check out the Center’s Data First Website.

* Data based on calculations from the Center for Public Education’s Chasing the College Acceptance Letter: Is it harder to get into college.

August 1, 2013

Labor market improves but colleges struggle for enrollees

Empty-Lecture-HallWith the emphasis on online college applications and common/universal admissions applications, it is no wonder that the number of submitted college applications is on a steep upward trajectory. The downside to easing the application process, however, is that colleges and universities now face greater uncertainty in determining the actual interest their applicants have in attending their particular university. In short, the reality reads something like this: 

> Applicants  ≠ > Enrolled students

Many schools are facing significant obstacles as they learn this hard lesson. According to a recent New York Times article, the colleges that are hit hardest by the economic upswing are those that are more likely to depend on tuition fees to keep the doors open. Enrollment numbers are becoming a big concern for the nation’s middle-tier institutions. As the economy improves, more and more workers are returning to the labor market—driving down the demand for higher education.

Another factor at play in decreasing enrollment numbers is the rising costs of college tuition. And though in his 2012 State of the Union Address, President Obama “put colleges and universities on notice” to lower their tuition costs, the reality is that the federal government has little to no power to affect actual state- and local-level reform in the world of tuition rates. It is up to colleges and universities to figure out cost-cutting measures for students. For example:

  •          Reducing student fees
    • Downside: decreased quality/offerings of student services and resources
  •          Laying off adjunct or non-tenured professors
    • Downside: increased class sizes, loss of collective knowledge and experience, decreased morale for remaining faculty members
  •          Reducing the geographic spread of a university system
    • Downside: overcrowding the remaining campuses and loss of overall enrollees as students’ travel distances to school become burdensome
  •          Increasing offerings of online courses
    • Downside: effectiveness of online learning is under fire, especially with the advent of MOOCs (which operate with little to no oversight and have abysmal completion rates)  

The road to boosting college enrollment to pre-recession levels is going to be a long and arduous journey. Many colleges and universities will not be able to recover unless they reign in their operating costs, find novel ways to recruit students, boost enrollment of international students, expand their applicant pool of likely enrollees, and/or extend their application and acceptance deadlines well into the summer months.

As the national college debt hits the $1 trillion mark, it makes sense that many high school graduates and working class citizens may shy away from the “opportunity” to join the ranks of the debt-burdened mass of college graduates. No one is begrudging the fact that the nation is slowly lifting itself out of the 2008 recession; however, institutions of higher education must realize that improved job prospects may mean more empty seats in college classrooms. -Christine Duchouquette

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