Top CPS grads often land at less rigorous colleges

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A new report from the Consortium on Chicago School Research has a surprising finding: Even students from top CPS high schools and programs are winding up at colleges far below their qualifications.

The study, released Thursday, is the fifth in the Consortium’s series on CPS graduates after high school. In this new study, Consortium researchers build on previous work that revealed a substantial mismatch between the colleges CPS students could get into and where they go. The study found this mismatch extends to top students in selective schools and programs. Even in schools such as Whitney Young and Lane Tech, about a third of students go to less rigorous colleges.

The study can be found at the Consortium website.

 

A new report from the Consortium on Chicago School Research has a surprising finding: Even students from top CPS high schools and programs are winding up at colleges far below their qualifications.

The study, released Thursday, is the fifth in the Consortium’s series on CPS graduates after high school. In this new study, Consortium researchers build on previous work that revealed a substantial mismatch between the colleges CPS students could get into and where they go. The study found this mismatch extends to top students in selective schools and programs. Even in schools such as Whitney Young and Lane Tech, about a third of students go to less rigorous colleges.

The study can be found at the Consortium website.

I found the results somewhat surprising, since one would assume that high-achievers in selective schools would be adept at navigating the college enrollment process. But what is especially interesting to me is the information the study presents on students in International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement programs in neighborhood high schools.

Until this report, no separate data was readily available on outcomes for students in these programs, making it hard to tell whether they were successful. The Consortium found these students wind up doing well—in fact, very well, with an average GPA of 3.8 and an average ACT score of 21.8, compared to the CPS average for the ACT of 17.1.

But these neighborhood high schools still struggle to get these high-performing students into better colleges that match their skills and qualifications. Less than half of these students enroll in colleges that match or are above their skill level.

In schools such as Prosser and Lake View, only a third of students in selective programs are going to colleges that fit their qualifications, and as many as a quarter wind up at two-year colleges.

Most IB and AP programs were created in the late 1990s to provide rigorous courses for those students who didn’t get into, or chose not to go to, selective high schools. The programs are found all over the city, from Washington High School on the far Southeast Side to Hyde Park High School in Woodlawn to Taft, which is close to O’Hare Airport. About 20 percent of regular CPS students are in one of these programs, which have higher percentages of black and Latino students than selective enrollment high schools. (White and Asian students still make up a disproportionate share of enrollment in the programs, however.)

Consortium researchers found that these students face a number of challenges to enrolling into top colleges, such as difficulty navigating the complicated financial aid system.

In neighborhood high schools where most students don’t qualify for highly selective schools, college counselors might not be adept at helping those who do qualify. Deadlines are often earlier for top-notch universities, and schedules of college counselors may be built around the deadlines of less selective schools.

Furthermore, researchers found that IB and AP students are no more likely than the average student to have a parent who attended college. So without the focused help of college counselors, these students don’t have anyone to help them choose appropriate colleges.

Plus, applying for selective and very selective colleges takes a lot of work. Students have to document extracurricular activities, get teacher recommendations and write essays.

Selective enrollment high schools are built around the process of applying to a selective or very selective college, while neighborhood high schools are not, giving students at top high schools a distinct advantage.

Whitney Young counselor Debra Hogan says that she and other counselors talk to juniors about using the summer before senior year to write college application essays. In the fall, English teachers come in on Saturdays to work with students. All through the school year, representatives from different colleges stop by to talk to students and take questions from them.

About 62 percent of students at Whitney Young went to colleges at or above their qualifications, while 28 percent went to colleges far below their qualifications.

Hogan says students who opt out of college or choose to go to a two-year program are flukes.

“Some people just want to become chefs or air conditioning repairmen,” she says. “Some want to go into the army.”