High School Poverty Rate May Predict a Student’s Likelihood of Attending, and Completing, College
November 16, 2016 10:41 am
Students from low-income high schools―those where at least 50 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL)―are less likely to enroll in postsecondary education, persist, and ultimately earn a degree than their more affluent peers. In fact, school poverty level is one of the strongest predictors of whether students will continue their education after high school, according to The High School Benchmarks Report: National College Progression Rates, an annual report from the National Student Clearinghouse® Research Center™ (NSCRC).
For the Class of 2015, only 54 percent of graduates from low-income public noncharter high schools enrolled in college immediately after graduation compared to 69 percent of graduates from higher-income high schools. The college enrollment gap is widest between the poorest and most affluent noncharter public schools, as the graph from the report shows below. Among the subset of low-income schools characterized as “high-poverty” high schools—those where at least three-quarters of students qualify for FRPL—only 51 percent of graduates enrolled in college immediately after high school. By comparison, among “low-poverty” high schools—ones where less than one-quarter of students qualify for FRPL—76 percent of graduates enrolled in college the fall after their high school graduation, according to the NSCRC report.
Students from low-income noncharter public high schools also persist and complete college at lower rates than those from higher-income schools. For the Class of 2013, 79 percent of graduates from low-income high schools stayed in college for a second year, compared to 88 percent of graduates from higher-income high schools, the report says. Six years after high school graduation, though, the gap widens substantially. Only 24 percent of graduates from low-income high schools in the Class of 2009 completed a degree within six years versus 45 percent of graduates from higher-income schools. The gap between the poorest and wealthiest schools again is most striking―only 18 percent of graduates from high-poverty high schools completed a degree within six years compared to 52 percent of graduates from low-poverty high schools. (See the report graph below.)
The NSCRC report also notes that students who attend public noncharter high schools with a significant proportion of students of color also enroll in, continue, and complete postsecondary education at lower rates. Specifically, the report compares the outcomes for graduates from “high-minority schools”—defined as high schools where at least 40 percent of students are African American or Latino—and “low-minority schools.”
Fifty-seven percent of graduates from high-minority schools enrolled in college immediately after graduating from high school compared to 68 percent of graduates from low-minority schools. Meanwhile, once these students enrolled in college, 81 percent of those from high-minority schools remained for a second year versus 88 percent of their peers from low-minority schools. Finally, six years after high school graduation, only 28 percent of students from high-minority schools earned a degree, compared to 48 percent of students from low-minority schools.
“After finishing high school, entering college and earning a degree are the next critical steps to reaching the levels of education that the 21st century demands,” Doug Shapiro, executive research director at NSCRC says in a statement. “But those steps are insurmountable barriers for too many students, particularly those from schools with high concentrations of low-income and minority students.”
The NSCRC report draws on data supplied from a sample of U.S. high schools that voluntarily participate in the StudentTracker for High Schools service administered by the National Student Clearinghouse. The fee-based service provides participating high schools regular analytic reports that allow school leaders to compare their graduates’ transition rates with national benchmarks and those from similar schools. The data set includes public and private schools from all fifty states and details about 5 million high school graduates.
Kristen Loschert is editorial director at the Alliance for Excellent Education.