I have been involved in urban education and its reform for the past six years here in Hartford and around the state, so I was curious how many of our students in the capital city went on to enroll in college and obtain a degree.
The importance of obtaining a college degree is quantifiable — it leads to lower unemployment rates and higher salaries. But data shows that students coming from schools in lower-income areas are less likely to enroll in college than their counterparts in higher-income areas.
The data that tracks students from high school graduation into college comes from the National Student Clearinghouse. (The Connecticut State Department of Education has a data portal for this data.) These reports track college enrollment, persistence and graduation by high school. The reports include the high school classes of 2007 through 2011, and track whether students enroll in college and obtain a degree. It’s common practice to analyze this data six years after a class has graduated high school. Given that the most recent data is from 2013, I looked at the class of 2007.
I only looked at neighborhood and interdistrict magnet schools run by Hartford Public Schools. The data isn’t perfect, because it includes a small number of students who don’t live in Hartford and attend an interdistrict school, but later in the piece, I will also look at schools with only Hartford residents. This data does not include Capitol Region Education Council schools.
One-in-four get a degree in six years
Overall, 22.5 percent of students that graduated from a Hartford public high school in 2007 went on to obtain a degree within six years. So what about everyone else?
About one in three students never entered college. Another one in three started college at some point, but were no longer enrolled by 2013. And the rest, about 13 percent, were still enrolled in college, but had not yet obtained a degree.
These are very troubling statistics. Of the 600 graduates in the class of 2007, only 215 had obtained a degree or were actively pursuing one in 2013. This means nearly two in three students from that graduating class are neither enrolled nor have a degree.
Hartford Public Schools has a number of magnet schools, which enroll students from the surrounding suburban towns as well as from Hartford. These schools typically perform at a much higher level than the all-Hartford-resident neighborhood schools, and these college numbers look even more dire when looking only at schools enrolling only Hartford residents.
About 40 percent of 2007 graduates from a neighborhood Hartford high school never enrolled in college; 30 percent enrolled in college, but dropped out within six years. This only leaves 30 percent who obtained a degree or were still enrolled in college.
Just 70 of the 421 students — or 16.6 percent — obtained a college degree.
The questions this raises
I’m a firm believer that informed change can only happen with effective use of data. Data helps us understand where the problem areas are and hold the key to figuring out the solutions. Many of our students in Hartford, especially those graduating from neighborhood schools, are not obtaining college degrees, which hold them back from reaching their potential and securing their ideal jobs.
With just one in six students who graduated from a neighborhood Hartford high school in 2007 going on to obtain a college degree within six years, we are urged to collect more robust data on this issue so it can be utilized by our local universities, colleges, urban districts, college prep programs and community-based organizations that work with students to begin identifying the problem areas.
The data shows four in ten Hartford neighborhood high school graduates in this cohort never enrolled in college at any point in the six years after their graduation. What is happening to these students? Are they able to find jobs? If so, what types of jobs are they able to obtain? How can we begin to enroll more graduates in college?
Three out of ten Hartford neighborhood high school graduates started college but dropped out. How can we better serve these students to ensure they persist through college to obtain a degree?
As we dive deeper into this data, we’re presented with many more questions: What is preventing so many students who graduate high school from enrolling in college? Is it for financial reasons or lack of access to other resources/college prep programs? How well do Hartford high schools prepare students for college? For the students that do complete college, what type of degree did they obtain? What sets these students apart from their peers who do not finish college?
We need more data
These questions can all be answered with additional data, and the answers will go on to inform effective solutions to the problems surrounding college enrollment, attainment and completion. Furthermore, it is always wise to look at multiple years of data, and not just one snapshot. This allows us to look at trends to make sure data is not just a fluke one year. Hopefully, the State Department of Education will continue to release updated data every year so that we can continue to track the trends in college enrollment, persistence, and attainment.
As I mentioned, this data brings up additional questions, requiring more in-depth data to answer, but this visualization can be used to kick off the conversation with key stakeholders. The other big omission from this data is the number of students who started as freshmen in high school for the class of 2007 (which is available for cohorts starting in 2010). It would be interesting to see how many students from each school obtain their high school degree, and then go on to enroll and complete college.
Another larger analysis would be to compare this data to that of peer districts, such as New Haven, Bridgeport and Waterbury, and to the state’s suburban districts. Despite having the Freedom of Information Act in Connecticut, it continues to be difficult to find and obtain comprehensive data around education. Following the examples of other states, like Florida and Texas, we need to make this data more readily available so that those serving our students can make more informed choices that lead to higher college completion.
Follow Rob Steller on Twitter @robbiestells.
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