From High School to the Future: Potholes on the Road to College

March, 2008
Authors: 
Melissa Roderick, Jenny Nagaoka, Vanessa Coca, Eliza Moeller; with Karen Roddie, Jamiliyah Gilliam, and Desmond Patton
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The research presented in this report was the centerpiece of CCSR's March 2008 symposium. Download the Microsoft PowerPoint presentation from that symposium.

Since 2004, the Consortium has tracked the postsecondary experiences of successive cohorts of Chicago Public Schools graduates and examined the relationship among high school preparation, support, college choice, and postsecondary outcomes. The goal of this research is to help CPS, other urban districts and national policy makers understand what it takes to improve the college outcomes for urban and other at-risk students who now overwhelmingly aspire to college. CCSR's first report in this series, From High School to the Future: A First Look at Chicago Public Schools Graduates' College Enrollment, College Preparation, and Graduation from Four-year Colleges, showed that increasing qualifications is the most important strategy to improving students' college participation, access to four-year and more selective colleges, and ultimately college graduation rates.

This second postsecondary report looks beyond qualifications to examine where students encounter potholes on the road to college. The findings reveal that Chicago students at all levels of qualifications do not successfully navigate the daunting process of enrolling in four-year colleges and too often default to colleges for which they are overqualified. For CPS students who reported aspiring to a four-year degree, only 41 percent took the steps necessary in their senior year and ultimately enrolled in a four-year college. This drop off is even worse for Latino students who wanted to earn a bachelor's degree, with only 46 percent applying and 30 percent enrolling in a four-year college in the fall after graduation—a gap that persisted regardless of students' immigration status. Furthermore, only about a third of CPS students who aspire to complete a four-year degree enroll in a college that matches or exceeds their qualifications. While "match" is just one consideration in finding the right college fit, it is an important one because earlier Consortium research demonstrated that graduation rates among the most popular Illinois colleges varies dramatically—even among students who graduate with a grade point average of 3.5 or above.

The study relies on qualitative and quantitative data for CPS seniors in 2005—student and teacher surveys, transcripts, college enrollment data reported by the National Student Clearinghouse, and student interviews. Consortium researchers spent nearly two years interviewing and tracking the academic progress of 105 students in three Chicago high schools. The ten case studies included in the "Potholes" study each highlight a student who struggled at a different point in the postsecondary planning process.

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