For students from high-need areas, a college diploma is rare

Print More

Yesterday we looked at college completion rates for Connecticut high school graduates. But looking at the overall numbers doesn’t tell the full picture.

In this state, it’s a tale of two groups: Students graduating from “high-need” districts — and everyone else. Of the 4,000 students who graduated from high-need districts, just 23 percent of them obtained a college degree.

Fifty percent of all other students obtained a degree.

The data, from the National Student Clearinghouse (via the State Department of Education), shows there are a few things going on.

High dropout rates for students from cities

Students from high-need, low-income areas had much higher college dropout rates than everyone else. (High-need districts are Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, New London, New Britain and Waterbury, as categorized by the State Department of Education based on student need and socioeconomic factors.)

In the first year of college, 21 percent of students from those towns had dropped out.

In year two, 36 percent had dropped out.

Six years after high school graduation, 58 percent were no longer enrolled and did not have a degree.

The first two years are key, though. Once a student made it through the first two years, the dropout rate decreased significantly.

Students leaving college
The rate of students leaving college was much higher in high-need districts than elsewhere.
Students from… High-need districts Everyone else
2009 21% 10%
2010 36% 17%
2011 45% 22%
2012 53% 26%
2013 58% 29%

If we exclude students from high-need districts, about 10 percent of students drop out within the first year. This is largely kept down by full-time students at four-year schools.

The next year, about 7 percent of that original cohort dropped out — and, after that, it steadied at 4 percent per year.

Dropout rates were about half that of students from those high-need districts.

Full-time, four-year college vs. everyone else

One possible reason for high dropout rates for students from high-need, low-income areas might be the type of situations they are in.

A disproportionate number of students from those areas attended a two-year college out of high school in 2008. Of the students who went to college from those districts, 43 percent attended a two-year school, versus just 24 percent of all the other Connecticut students who went to college.

And there is a stark difference between students who take the traditional route — full-time at a four-year college — versus everyone else.

For those “traditional” students, about 87 percent of them had a college degree six years after high school, which is better than the U.S. average of 82 percent. In 2008, they accounted for half of Connecticut’s high school graduates — about 13,000 students.

The other half of college attendees — about 14,000 students — went to a two-year school, were enrolled part-time or both.

Six years later, just 46 percent of them had a college degree.

Where students from high-need districts go to school
Students from high-need districts are more likely to go to public two-year schools that are in-state.
Students from High-need districts All other students Overall
Two-year 43% 24% 25%
Four-year 57% 76% 75%
Private 24% 37% 36%
Public 76% 63% 64%
In-state 78% 55% 57%
Out-of-state 22% 45% 43%
Some of these students return to college

One in five students who went to college from the high-need areas dropped out — then returned within six years of high school.

This route back to college is much more common for students from high-need areas because a higher percentage of those students drop out of college in the first place. But in all areas, the return rate of dropouts is the same at about 35 percent.

This is consistent with data on part-time students at community colleges, who are less likely to finish school and finish in consecutive years.

Starting later

Students from high-need areas are more likely to start college later than everyone else — and, as a whole, students who start later are less likely to complete college.

When they start: High-need vs. everyone else
Students from high-need high schools tend to start college later — or not at all.
Year High-need school Everyone else
2008 52.9% 72.1%
2009 6.2% 3.9%
2010 2.9% 1.7%
2011 1.9% 1.1%
2012 1.2% 0.9%
2013 1.3% 0.7%
In the beginning…

The low completion rates are easy to delve into with this data. But what we don’t know — and should explore going forward — is why the college enrollment rates for high-need students are so low in the first place.

Only about half the students from those schools even attend college. Some schools, like Hill Regional Career High School in New Haven, have nearly 80 percent college enrollment rates. Others, like Bulkeley High School, only have about 40 percent enrollment rates.

In addition, some students from those high schools tend to fare better than others. For example, New Britain High School and James Hillhouse High School in New Haven had similar enrollment rates — but about 28 percent of college enrollees from New Britain High School earned a diploma, while just 15 percent from Hillhouse did.

What do you think?