Key Questions

1.  How frequently do CPS graduates transfer or take time off ("stop out") of college? Does it matter if students stop out?

2.  How common is movement between two-year and four-year colleges?

3.  How do these patterns relate to their degree outcomes? What is the most common path to a four-year degree?


Over the past decade, the college enrollment rate for Chicago Public Schools (CPS) graduates has steadily increased, but the college completion rate has remained relatively flat. At the same time, practitioners have realized that the “traditional” path through college—enrolling in one institution and remaining enrolled through graduation—is not the norm for most CPS graduates. In order to ensure more students who begin college finish with a diploma, we need to have a better understanding of what happens to students between the point at which they first enroll and the point at which they exit post-secondary education.

In this report, we begin unpacking this question by looking at six years of patterns of college enrollment, non-enrollment, and completion for the approximately 63,000 CPS students who graduated high school between 2010 and 2012. By examining the timing, type, and frequency of transitions students are experiencing, and how those differ by student groups, we hope to understand ways in which high schools can better prepare students to navigate the post-secondary landscape, where higher education needs to adjust their structures and supports, and where research should delve deeper to better understand why students are making the transitions we observe.

Key Findings

  • About 46 percent of CPS graduates enrolled in a four-year institution and 47 percent enrolled in a two-year institution at some point during their post-secondary journey, with 18 percent having an enrollment in both.
  • It was more common for CPS graduates to enroll in a four-year college and then transfer to a two-year college (29 percent of four-year college enrollees) than to enroll in a two-year college and transfer to a four-year college (22 percent of two-year college enrollees).
  • Nearly 83 percent of immediate two-year college enrollees took a semester off (stopped out) at least once within six years, compared to 51 percent of immediate four-year college enrollees.
  • More than one-third of CPS students who stopped out from college returned after one term.
  • Around 90 percent of students who took at least one semester off from college did not complete a degree or credential within six years.
  • The vast majority of students who completed a four-year degree within six years immediately enrolled in a four-year college after graduating high school and remained continuously enrolled until completion.
  • Young women were more likely to both immediately enroll and to persist than young men, both in four-year and two-year colleges.
  • Ten percent of students who did not enroll in college within six years had an average high school GPA above 3.0—a missed opportunity for high-achieving students.

Click below to view a 90-second episode of GO FIGURE, with Alex Seeskin explaining Figure 16 of this research (December 13, 2023).