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May 2, 2013

Improve college attainment rates: Invest in high school guidance counselors

A recent study by Caroline Hoxby and Christopher Avery hasn’t gotten a lot of media attention but is a must read. In fact, I just became aware of the study myself even though it was issued as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research back in December. Policymakers, educators, parents, and the general public should be made aware of this study because it has broad implications for narrowing gaps between low and higher income students.

What did the study find that was so important? It found that low-income high achieving students were less likely to not just attend a selective college but even apply to one as similar achieving higher income students. Instead, low-income high achieving students tend to attend non-selective two- or four-year colleges that have significantly lower instructional resources and graduation rates.

Why is this so important?  Too few low-income students go on to obtain a college degree. If more low-income students applied to more selective colleges that have greater instructional resources and higher graduations rates the college degree attainment gap between low- and high-income students would narrow. In the long-term the U.S. would likely climb up the international college graduation rate rankings as well.

You might be thinking low-income students may not attend more selective colleges because they cost more. This may be true if you compared sticker prices but the study found that if you take into account the difference in financial aid packages, many selective colleges would cost low-income students less than the non-selective colleges they wound up attending.

However, this isn’t likely to be common knowledge for many low –income students as many are the first in their families to attend college. This is why adults in their high schools need to help educate these students and their families about the college going process, particularly for those qualified to attend a selective college. Yet, when the national student to guidance counselor average is 350 to 1—likely much higher in many high poverty urban districts—it is nearly impossible for guidance counselors to find the time to ensure low-income high achieving students apply to selective schools.

This study provides more evidence of the importance of high school guidance counselors. As CPE found in our High School Rigor and Good Advice report last year, those students who meet regularly with counselors about college are more likely to succeed in college. The same report also found that those students who took more rigorous courses in high school were more likely to succeed in college as well. So, guidance counselors not only help low-income high achieving students by educating them about the college going process but by ensuring students take the rigorous courses they need to succeed in college.

Yes, getting more low-income students to complete a rigorous high school curriculum will increase the chances those students will attend and succeed in college. But this study shows that academic preparation can only go so far. If schools invest more in educating low-income students on the college going process by hiring more guidance counselors that will ensure students take rigorous courses and apply to higher quality colleges. Then the U.S. will likely see the college degree gap between low- and high-income students narrow and see the U.S. rise in the international college attainment rankings. – Jim Hull

January 18, 2013

More graduates, please

Just when we thought things were looking up. As we’ve reported before, high school graduation rates have been steadily rising for over a decade. A new report now shows that higher rates notwithstanding, we are about to enter a period of declining numbers of high school grads. The implications for growing the nation’s supply of college grads and skilled workers look pretty daunting.

The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) recently published an eighth edition of its projections of high school graduates (“Knocking at the College Door”).  The data is primarily intended for higher education institutions and policymakers to inform postsecondary policies related to funding, student aid and so forth.  But by shedding light on high school graduation trends both nationally and by state, the projections are also useful for P-12 leaders.

WICHE found that a nearly unprecedented era of growth in high school diplomas peaked with the class of 2010-11, when the nation produced approximately 3.4 million grads. But a combination of lower birth rates and changing demographics point to a drop in numbers to 3.2 to 3.3 million annually. Given current college-going and completion rates, it makes the already difficult job of feeding the demand for workers with post-secondary credentials even more so.  At the WICHE press event releasing the report, the mostly higher ed panel further suggested that colleges and universities, concerned about the impact on their enrollments, will recruit more heavily outside the country.

Unless.  Even with lower birth rates, we have enough young people to fill our universities and high-skilled jobs. But we need to double down on our efforts to raise high school graduation rates, particularly for Latino and African American teenagers, which, though improving, still lag behind their Asian and white peers. We also need to make sure that the diploma all of our students earn prepares them for success in two- and four-year colleges.

We can do this. The P-12 focus on raising high school grad rates is already showing results. The national on-time graduation rate is now 75.5 percent, an increase of 3 percentage points since 2002. So we have figured out what to do, it’s a matter of committing the resources to expand the efforts we have begun:

  • Start early with high-quality pre-k programs.
  • Identify students in late elementary and middle school who exhibit warning signs that they may be in danger of dropping out. These are students with failing grades, low attendance and/or behavior problems.
  • Provide effective interventions including trained mentors for identified students and more guidance counselors who can help students prepare for life high school, including help navigating the college admissions and financial aid process.

January 4, 2013

Singing our song

Fareed Zakaria is calling for a “growth” agenda for the nation’s economic health, one that recognizes the importance of developing our human capital.  Writing in this morning’s Washington Post, Zakaria acknowledges the urgency — and difficulty — of getting our fiscal  house in order, yet argues that our “deeper challenge” may well be finding the collective will to invest in our infrastructure.

Zakaria is singing our song, especially when he highlights our need to invest in education. And indeed, to make the point he quotes from Jim Hull’s recent analysis on international college completions. As Jim points out, our young adults are being surpassed by their peers in other countries in college attainment, but a focus on two-year degrees will go a long way toward improving our standing and give a real boost to the economy.

You can learn more about the role for high schools in improving post-secondary completions by checking out CPE’s high school toolkit.–Patte Barth

Filed under: college,High school — Tags: , , — Patte Barth @ 11:54 am

October 12, 2012

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

May 24, 2012

What’s in a grad rate?

The Education Department is moving forward with plans to change how it calculates grad rates for colleges. It will no longer measure solely first-time, full-time students. As this article from Inside Higher Ed points out, many community colleges in particular have large populations of part-time or returning students. Four-year colleges often have many transfer students as well.

I’m pleased to hear that. I know several people who worked (or are working) their way through college after a gap in education, part-time, or transferring from a community college to a four-year college. They often confront many more challenges in completing their education: the ability to get courses that fit with their work schedule, losing credits after transferring, or just feeling discouraged because so much is tailored to the full-time, first-time student.

For places like community colleges, who often see it as their mission to support such students, including such students in the grad rate could provide an important boost to their arguments for what they need and how they are doing. For four-year colleges, including such students in the grad rate would provide an important picture of how the college is truly doing at supporting students instead of potentially masking shortfalls with the highest-achieving students’ work.

Of course, the question of how to do this (and what constitutes success!) is yet to be determined. Constructing the formulas the right way can make a huge difference. Just read our report Better Late Than Never or watch our video on graduation rates to see how much changing the formula could change our perception of high school’s success.

But starting this process is a good thing. College is a great place to hear about diversity. I’m glad to see that colleges are starting to realize how diverse their own students are and revise their grad rates to reflect that fact. –Rebecca St. Andrie

Filed under: college,Graduation rates — Tags: , , — rstandrie @ 11:25 am

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