March 5, 2010
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.
February 17, 2010
Achievement gaps may be shrinking overall, but new analyses of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data show that achievement gaps persist, and in some cases are widening, among the nation’s highest achieving students.
A recent report from the Center for Education and Evaluation Policy, Mind the (Other) Gap, examines achievement gaps among high-achieving students and found striking gaps in performance. The report’s authors looked at disaggregated NAEP data and examined the disparities between underrepresented students (e.g., low-income, minority, ELL) and non-underrepresented students in the advanced levels of performance on NAEP. A few findings from the report:
- only 1.7% of low-income students scored at the advanced level in 8th grade math in 2007, while the percentage of non-low-income students scoring in the advanced level in math was 10% – a gap of 8.3 percentage points
- the disparity between the percentage of low-income and non-low-income students scoring at the advanced level in 8th grade math, which the report’s authors label an ”excellence gap”, has widened since 1996, when the gap between the percentages of low-income and non-low-income students scoring in the advanced level of math was only 3.3 percentage points
- only .9% of African-American students scored at the advanced level in 8th grade math in 2007, while the percentage of White students scoring in the advanced level in math was 9.4% – a gap of 8.5 percentage points
- this “excellence gap” in 8th grade math has widened since 1996, when the gap between the percentages of African-American and White students scoring in the advanced level of math was only 4.9 percentage points
- the scale score of low-income students scoring at the 90th percentile in 8th grade reading was 288, while the scale score of non-low-income students scoring at the 90th percentile in 8th grade reading was 309, a difference of 21 points (10-12 points on NAEP is roughly equivalent to one grade level, so a difference of 21 points means that the highest achieving low-income students are about two grade levels behind the highest achieving non-low-income students)
December 7, 2009
Thanks to Sarah Bachner for sending this article – Great Expectations: Can research change the character of the affirmative action debate? -by David Kirp, a UC Berkeley Public Policy Professor. While critics of affirmative action argue that beneficiaries of affirmative action would be better off at less selective colleges (where expectations are lower and the work is easier), Kirp presents research to show that students, and minority students in particular, perform better when they are in a “high academic expectations environment”.
Kirp points to the ten-percent admissions policy in Texas where high school graduates in the top tenth of their class are guaranteed spots in the state’s flagship universities. African-American and Latino students who attend Texas’ most competitive colleges “are 21 percent more likely to earn their bachelor’s degree than are students with similar qualifications who opt to enroll in one of the less selective universities.” The findings in the Kirp article are similar to those in a recently released book “Crossing the Finish Line” that I discussed in a recent post.
On another note from the expectations front: a recent education survey of high school educators, low-income students and parents revealed major differences in their beliefs about the purpose of high school. While 48% of low-income students felt that the most important purpose of high school was to prepare for college, only 9% of teachers felt that their primary mission was to prepare students for college (38% of teachers felt that their primary mission was to help students master the subjects they teach and 30% of teachers felt that their primary mission was to teach students basic life skills). Additionally, 40% of teachers felt that it was either “not too important” or only “somewhat important” that their students attend college. I can’t help but wonder how teachers’ responses might have been different if they were asked about the the importance of college for their own children instead of the young people they teach.
September 22, 2009
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.