It would be great if the DREAM Act would finally pass, but in the meantime it’s good to know that this week the California Supreme Court unanimously upheld a state statute (AB 540) that enables undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at state universities if they have attended a California high school for 3 or more years and graduated from high school. In 2008, a California appeals court ruled that extending in-state tuition status to undocumented students conflicted with federal law. California is one of 10 states where undocumented students can pay in-state tuition.
Over the past 30 years, college-going has increased for all groups of students – that’s good news. The bad news is that there are still huge gaps in the rates of college attendance between groups of students. Students who would be first in their family to attend college, low-income students and students of color enroll in college at far lower rates than their peers. Even the highest-achieving, low-income students enroll in four-year colleges at about half the rate of high-achieving high-income students.
So what are the barriers to college enrollment for low-income and other underrepresented students and how can Breakthrough programs help students overcome these barriers? This month’s research brief – Barriers to College for High Achieving Students – describes the research and best practices that Breakthrough programs should consider when designing and implementing high school support services that will best prepare their students to apply to and enroll in selective four-year colleges.
Did you know that research shows that the level of academic achievement students attain by eighth grade has a significant impact on students’ college and career-readiness? This month’s research brief reviews the research on why the middle grades are such a pivotal time in students’ academic lives and explores how programs can best support middle school students to get them on the college path. Click here to read this month’s research brief to find out more.
The surprising finding from the new book, “Crossing the Finish Line“, isn’t that the most selective public universities graduate their students at much higher rates than less selective public universities (65% of students at the most selective schools graduate in four years, while only 33% of students at the least selective schools graduate in four years), but that students who have the qualifications (e.g., grades and test scores) to attend the most selective universities, but end up attending less selective universities, graduate at lower rates than similar students who attend the most selective universities. Students, families and counselors may think students have a better shot of graduating if they attend an “easier” school, but these data don’t support that belief.
The authors call the phenomenon of students attending schools for which they are overqualified, “undermatching” and find that undermatching is more common among students of color, low-income students and students whose parents did not attend college. The authors found that undermatching occurs not because selective schools don’t admit qualified students, but because qualified students are either not applying to or are not accepting the admission offers of the most selective schools.
Not only do overqualified students graduate at a lower rate from less selective universities, but so do students who might be considered to be a better fit for less selective universities. The authors analyzed data for black male students with GPAs of less than 3.0 (a population of students that critics of affirmative action believe are not well served by competitive colleges) and found that these students had higher graduation rates when they attended the most selective universities than when they attended the least selective universities. While some might worry about students attending schools that are too difficult for them, these data reveal that students across the board have a better chance of graduating when they attend more selective universities. This research strongly reinforces the idea that all students should be encouraged to apply to and attend the most competitive colleges that will admit them and highlights the need for more extensive, and perhaps more nuanced, college counseling.
This week the College Board released SAT data for the class of 2009. The good news is that the student population taking the 2009 SAT is more diverse than ever before – 40% of SAT takers were students of color, 36% of SAT takers would be first-generation college students, and 25% of SAT takers reported that English wasn’t their first language (or not their only first language).
The bad news is that there are still large disparities between groups of students. For example, the average score on the math section for students whose families earn between $20,000-40,000 was 475, while the average score on the math section for students whose families earn more than $200,000 was 579 and the average score on the writing section for African-American students was 421, while for White students the average score on the writing section was 517.
Strong SAT performance appears to be correlated with at least three factors: completing a strong core curriculum in high school; taking the most academically rigorous courses available and practicing for the SAT by taking the PSAT/NMSQT.
Core Curriculum in High School
Students who completed a core curriculum that included 4 or more years of English, 3 or more years of math, 3 or more years of natural science, and 3 or more years of social science or history had the highest SAT scores. For example, students who took such a core curriculum scored 46 points higher on the critical reading section than students who did not.
Students who took AP or honors classes had higher average SAT scores. For example, students who took AP or honors math classes scored 79 points higher on the math section compared to the average math score.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Students who were familiar with the test and had taken the PSAT/NMSQT had higher average SAT scores. For example, students who took the PSAT/NMSQT scored 45 points higher on the writing section than students who didn’t take the PSAT/NMSQT.
For more SAT data, see the College Board reports.
More and more schools, districts and states are coming to realize what Breakthrough has known, and has been working towards, for the past 30 years – that underserved students need more access to rigorous courses. But as many point out, access without support is a recipe for failure. This month’s research brief -Elements of Effective Academic Support - synthesizes the research on steps programs can take to enhance the effectiveness of their support for students who are struggling to meet high standards.
A recently released report from the National Governors Association(NGA) -Raising Rigor, Getting Results: Lessons from AP Expansion -refutes one of the main arguments against providing greater access to rigorous courses, namely that opening up access will necessitate diluting the rigor of the course and/or overall performance in the course will noticeably decline.
The report analyzes the results of a pilot project to expand access to AP courses in 51 high schools in rural and urban school districts and found that the number of students taking AP courses in these schools rose by 65% and the number of minority and low-income students taking AP exams more than doubled in two years. Although the percentage of students in the pilot schools earning a “3″ or higher on the AP exams is lower than the national average, the percentage of students earning a “3″ or higher in these pilot schools is increasing at a faster rate than the national average.
The report also describes the strategies states used to improve AP enrollment and success: expanding access to AP courses, building teacher and student capacity, and creating incentives for schools and students.
Education Week released it’s annual Diploma’s Count report this week, which contains tons of data, including national, state, and district-level data on high school graduation rates and trends over time. For those of you following this sort of thing – the national high school graduation rate for the class of 2006 is 69.2%, which is an increase since 1996, but is lower than the 2005 graduation rate (these graduation rates are calculated using the Cumulative Promotion Index).
The report also focuses on the challenges states and districts face in gettting their students college-ready. There is a growing policy push towards college readiness, as well as a growing recognition that high school completion does not guarantee college readiness (as evidenced by the fact that, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 42% of students entering two year colleges enroll in remedial courses.) One of the major challenges in ensuring students are prepared for college (aside from the belief that college isn’t necessary for some students) is that there is not yet a consensus on how to define or assess ”college readiness.”
All agree that rigorous academic preparation in high school is key, but is that determined through course requirements? academic content standards? scores on tests like the ACT or SAT? How do skills unrelated to content, skills like problem-solving or time management, fit in?
An increasing number of states are grappling with these questions as they develop their own college readiness standards. Some states, such as Texas, Washington and California, have brought together educators and policymakers from the K-12 sector and the higher education sector to collaborate in developing college readiness standards. This kind of K-16 alignment will become increasingly more important if high schools are to become more accountable for student outcomes beyond high school graduation. Some advocates are already looking to strengthen high school accountability measures in the reauthorized No Child Left Behind legislation so that high school success is determined, in part at least, by how many students enroll in, stay enrolled and graduate from college.
And speaking of success rate in college, another interesting report, Diplomas & Dropouts: Which Colleges Actually Graduate Their Students (and Which Don’t), was released last week that shows that the graduation rates of colleges vary widely, even when comparing colleges with similar students and similar admissions criteria. The report’s authors found that these disparities in graduation rates decrease for more selective colleges and that the average graduation rate is significantly higher for more selective colleges (the average graduation rate at the ”less selective” colleges is 39.6%, while the average graduation rate at the “most selective” colleges is 87.8%.) These data highlight how far we still have to go to adequately prepare all students for college and ensure they graduate once they get there.
A recent study done by researchers at the University of Michigan shows that students as young as 11 adjust their expectations and academic effort based on whether or not they see college as a viable possibility.
In this study, one group of low-income and minority 7th graders was given information about need-based financial aid for college, while another group of low-income and minority 7th graders at the same school was given information about the cost of college without information on financial aid opportunities. Students then answered questions about their academic expectations and amount of time they were planning to devote to studying and homework. Students who were not already behind academically and who had received financial aid information expected to get better grades and planned to do more homework and studying than their peers who did not receive financial aid information.
Though this finding is not entirely surprising, it illustrates how early students start making conscious or unconscious decisions about college and how a lack of information about how to navigate the path to college and how to pay for college can seriously curtail a student’s academic effort as early as middle school.
This study should serve as a warning to everyone working with underserved students – waiting until high school to provide students with information about college and financial aid may be too late! It is critical to provide young students with guidance that enables them to see college as a real possibility and the information that will help them turn the dream of college into a reality.
Roxbury Preparatory Charter School, a public charter middle school in Boston that was founded by Breakthrough alumnus Evan Rudall and is co-directed by former Breakthrough teacher and director Dana Lehman, was profiled in last week’s Education Week. The Ed Week article describes what it takes to prepare students from the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in Boston for college prep high schools. Roxbury Prep combines academic rigor, intensive support and counseling with a culture that is both serious and spirited.