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

Melissa Roderick, Jenny Nagaoka, Elaine Allensworth
Consortium on Chicago School Research
March 2008

Ed reformers sweat buckets over the achievement gap, but they pay less attention to the so-called "social capital gap" between those who are prepared to negotiate the winding path to higher education and those who aren't. This report suggests that many more high school graduates would make it to four-year colleges if only they had a little more basic, logistical assistance (in Chicago, at least). CCSR used data from their own survey and from Chicago Public Schools' postsecondary tracking system to examine "whether CPS students who aspire to four-year colleges are effectively participating in the college search and application process." What they found is disappointing but not too disheartening when one considers how relatively simple are the solutions. For instance, "the single most consistent predictor of whether students took steps toward college enrollment was whether their teachers reported that their high school had a strong college climate." Ordering some Ivy League pennants is no cure-all, but surely imbuing a school with a college-prep culture is easier than, say, overhauling its teaching corps or revamping its curriculum. (Educators looking for a model might visit a KIPP school.) The study also reveals that "Students who reported completing a FAFSA [i.e., the federal government's application for financial aid] by May... were more than 50 percent more likely to enroll than students who had not completed a FAFSA." This even after the authors controlled for differences in students' qualifications and support from teachers, counselors, and parents. One imagines this would be another relatively easy fix. Lots of ed research is so abstract and forward-looking that it's not likely to spur anyone to immediate action, but this report should. Read it here.

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