The Educational Attainment of Chicago Public Schools Students: A Focus on Four-Year College Degrees

December, 2014
Kaleen Healey, Jenny Nagaoka, and Valerie Michelman
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This research brief looks at how CPS students’ high school graduation, four-year college enrollment, and bachelor’s degree completion have changed since 2006, when UChicago CCSR estimated that just 8 percent of CPS freshmen would graduate high school, immediately enroll in a four-year college, and go on to earn a bachelor’s degree by their mid-20s. According to this new analysis, an estimated 14 percent of ninth-graders in Chicago Public Schools will take this direct route to earn a four-year college degree within 10 years of starting high school. The figure is an index of the percentage of CPS students who graduate high school, immediately enroll in a four-year college, and earn a bachelor’s degree within six years of beginning college. An additional 3 percent of high school graduates who do not immediately enroll in a four-year college go on to earn a bachelors’ degree within six years, bringing the estimated percent of CPS ninth graders who will earn a bachelor’s degree to 17 percent.

This study also estimates the national index to be 18 percent, placing Chicago close to the national rate and ahead of other large urban districts that publish similar figures.

Findings from the report include:

  • The improvement from 8 percent to 14 percent was driven by increases in the rates at which CPS students are graduating high school and enrolling in four-year colleges. Meanwhile, the college graduation rate among students who enroll in four-year colleges has increased only slightly. Four-year high school graduation rates have improved by 15 percentage points, to 73 percent in 2014, and four-year college enrollment rates among high school graduates have improved by 7 percentage points, to 40 percent.
  • More CPS students are graduating from high school, and they are finishing with higher qualifications, but many CPS students remain unprepared for college. The average ACT score of CPS graduates has increased by nearly a point since 2006, even as 5,500 additional students annually now take the ACT due in large part to improving high school graduation rates. Still, nearly half of CPS students graduate with below an 18 on the ACT.
  • Very low institutional graduation rates at the colleges CPS students frequently attend present a major barrier to college completion. Prior UChicago CCSR research has shown that students with the same qualifications upon leaving high school are much more likely to graduate if they attend a college with a high institutional graduation rate. At four of the 10 four-year colleges most frequently attended by CPS graduates, the six-year institutional graduation rates are below 50 percent.

This report is part of the Urban Education Institute’s To & Through project, a three-part release over the next year of data reports and an online tool designed to provide targeted information to schools, civic leaders, parents, and other stakeholders on key levers for college success.

Click below to view a panel discussion of the report, the data, and the implications from December 9, 2014.

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