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FROM HIGH SCHOOL TO THE FUTURE: Chicago Longitudinal Study Tracks High School Graduates Through College

“We find that Chicago Public Schools graduates’ low grades and low test scores are creating significant barriers to four-year and particularly selective four-year colleges … and that low high school grades are undermining chances for graduation among those who enroll,” said Melissa Roderick

Only about 6 out of every 100 ninth graders who walk in the door of a Chicago public high school will earn a 4-year college degree by the time they are in their mid-20’s, according to a new report from the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago. The report, which tracks the graduating classes of 1998, 1999, 2002, and 2003, is the first in the country to follow individual graduates of a major urban school system and to evaluate what kind of colleges they attend and how many persevere until graduation.

The report, From High School to the Future, also finds that the educational aspirations of Chicago’s high school students have risen over the last decade, but the gap between student aspirations and actual college enrollment and degree attainment remains large. Although nearly 80% of high school seniors in Chicago public schools said that they expected to graduate from a 4-year college, only about one third enrolled in a 4-year college within a year of high school graduation, and only about 35% of those who enrolled in college received a bachelor’s degree within 6 years. (Keep in mind that this report only considers high school graduates. According to the Manhattan Institute report covered earlier, the graduation rate for students in the class of 2003 who hailed from Chicago was 50%. Any student who drops out of high school is not reflected in the report’s calculations.)

These numbers are only slightly lower than students of similar race/ethnicity in the rest of the nation; however, the report finds that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students are concentrated in 2-year and less selective 4-year colleges, and that they graduate from college at much lower rates than their peers of the same race/ethnic backgrounds in other parts of the country.

“We find that Chicago Public Schools graduates’ low grades and low test scores are creating significant barriers to four-year and particularly selective four-year colleges … and that low high school grades are undermining chances for graduation among those who enroll,” said Melissa Roderick, professor in the School of Social Service Administration and principal investigator of the Chicago Postsecondary Transition Project. “Improving students’ qualification is the single most important strategy that CPS can use to give students access to colleges that match their aspirations. This will require as much a focus on grades as high schools are currently placing on test scores.”

The report points out that males are especially likely to suffer from low grade-point-averages in Chicago public high schools. It states that even male students who manage to graduate appear to be disengaged from and struggling in CPS high schools—and it’s not because they enter high schools less prepared than their female classmates.

According to the report, male and female high school graduates had comparable ACT scores and eighth-grade preparation for high school, but males were more likely to graduate high school with low GPAs. In fact, 56% of African-American and 48% of Hispanic male graduates from Chicago public high schools graduated with less than a 2.0 GPA, compared to less than 30% of African-American and Latino females. Such low grades meant that minority males had few college options available to them upon graduation from high school. As a remedy to this situation, the report encourages Chicago public high schools to seriously consider “the extent to which high school and classroom environments are working to engage young men in their schooling and their learning.”

The report also finds an undercurrent of “haves” and “have nots” in its analysis of Chicago public high schools. For example, although research has found that a rigorous high school course load can play a key role in shaping access to selective colleges, Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs were not evenly distributed across all high schools. As a result, students at “have” schools such as Morgan Park and Lincoln Park have excelled, whereas students at “have not” schools were largely denied access to rigorous course work and left behind.

The study further indicates that elite high schools are raising the average for the entire system even though students at other schools continue to struggle. In fact, half of the students who leave high school with the GPAs and ACT scores they will need to attend selective colleges come from five Chicago high schools. “Thus,” it reads, “if students are not lucky [enough] to attend one of the top schools in the city, they appear to have little chance of graduating with access to a selective college or with the GPAs, test scores, and coursework that would predict that they will be successful in college once enrolled.”

However, just because students graduate with the proper credentials, does not mean that they are necessarily well prepared for college, nor that they will attend a selective college. Overall, the report finds that CPS graduates—both those who are well qualified and those who struggled in high school—tend to enroll in a small number of local postsecondary institutions with lower-than-average graduation rates. To help steer well-qualified graduates to more selective colleges, as well as to increase the number of students who go to college, the report calls for more guidance and support at the high school level. Increased guidance and support is especially important for Hispanic students, who are much less likely to attend college even if they have the proper credentials.

The authors note that the high aspirations of Chicago public high school students are creating a new set of demands on high schools and educators—demands that have, up until this point, been reserved for only the most selective high schools. According to the report, the first step toward improved college performance is getting educators and high school communities to see postsecondary preparation and participation as a critical goal while students are still in high school. The second step, and single most important factor, is increasing student qualifications (GPA, ACT scores, etc.). “Unfortunately,” the report reads, “in Chicago, the gap between the qualifications students need and their current levels of performance is wide and must be the central focus of reform.”

The complete report is available at

Remediation Rates on the Rise Among Indiana College Freshmen


Although enrollment figures for college freshmen in the state of Indiana have remained relatively constant since 2000, the percentage of incoming students who need remediation has grown by over 30% over the same period, according to a new issue brief from Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy (CEEP). At IU Bloomington, the state’s largest university campus, and also one of its most competitive, 1 in 7 freshmen require remedial classes.

“We basically double pay for these students because we pay for them with public dollars in the secondary institutions and then they go and take remedial courses in college,” said David Holt, vice president for workforce development policy at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve got to stem that tide.”

In addition to rising rates among freshmen, the brief found rising remediation rates among the rest of the student population. From the 2000–01 school year to the 2003–04 school year, the percentage of all undergraduates taking remedial math courses at Indiana postsecondary institutions grew from 9% to 12.1%, while the percentage that needed remediation in English grew from 4.3% to 5%. African-American students were most likely to participate in remedial courses, with 24.8% taking remedial math, and 13.8% taking at least one remedial English course.

In an effort to decrease the number of college students needing remediation, Indiana has joined the American Diploma Project, a 22-state effort to raise the expectations and achievement of high school students. As part of these efforts, the state has aligned academic standards in high school with the expectations that students will face in college and in the workforce. The state has also upgraded its high school curriculum. Beginning in the 2007–08 school year, Indiana will require all incoming high school freshmen to complete Core 40, a “college- and work-ready curriculum,” before they can earn their high school diplomas. By 2011, students wishing to attend one of Indiana’s 4-year universities must complete Core 40 before they can be considered for admission.

The complete brief is available at


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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.