Fewer than 1 in 4 students graduating from Hartford public high schools got a college degree within six years

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Chris Moncus

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.

We welcome contributors to share data, analysis and perspectives that follow our guidelines.

What do you think?

  • realsaramerica

    How could this possibly be happening? Let me think… Perhaps because the data in Hartford Public Schools was being manipulated to show improved results and teachers were providing information that this was occurring to press outlets and it was being studiously ignored? So it looked like more kids were “college ready” when they actually were not, and thus they got to college and didn’t succeed because they weren’t actually prepared and hadn’t received the proper emotional and academic support along the way? Interesting that Chester Finn of the Fordham Institute, one of the loudest institutional supporters of CCSS, has an op ed questioning if “college ready” is damaging “college educated.” https://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2015/04/28/chester-finn-worries-that-college-ready-is-damaging-college-educated/ It’s almost like he has seen the political writing on the wall and realized what some of us have been saying all along.

    If by “more data” you mean more testing, I can assure you that will not solve the problem. What will solve the problem is having more guidance counselors to ensure that kids apply to and get into the college that best suits their needs and that they can actually afford to go to and have the financial aid to attend. Having certified school librarians to help kids learn the research and media literacy skills they’ll need to succeed in higher education – because just being able to Google an answer doesn’t cut it in college or in the workplace. You have to be able to analyze the validity of what you find. Part of the problem with education reform as it has been practiced for the last decade is it has been driven by people who claim they love data, but institute policies that have no basis in research, while cutting the programs that are backed by 40 years worth of proven research.

    • I agree that one issue is certainly the lack of guidance counselors and other support staff at both the high school and college level to help our students understand how to navigate the college application process and adjust to life after high school. We also need to be providing students with marketable skills (I.e. programming) that can allow them to find good jobs out of high school for those not going to college. My argument for “more data” was a call for more transparency in the data that’s already being collected because a lot of the questions that I raised in the post can be answered with what’s there. Furthermore, the data that’s being collected needs to be put to better use. Effective use of data is what will allow policy makers to make informed decisions about what programs to cut based on 40 years of bad results.

      • alvinschang

        What kind of additional data would you want to see — and do you know if it exists?

        • What’s preventing students from applying/enrolling/persisting through/graduating from college? Where are students who do not go to college ending up? What jobs are they able to obtain? How many students are dropping out of high school? What skills are most marketable today and how can we get these skills to high school students? What types of degrees are students obtaining (2 vs 4 year vs graduate)? How many students enrolling in college require remedial courses? A lot of these I touch on in the post. Some of this is easier to obtain than others (National Student Clearinghouse, State Department of Education, the Census to a degree, workforce studies, etc). Knowing the answers to these questions would allow us to create better policies and programs to help close the gap between our urban and suburban students.

          • realsaramerica

            There is too much to respond to in this. I think I have to write a column.

          • alvinschang
          • realsaramerica

            I write for CTNewsJunkie – I’ve got an op-ed to write for this Friday. Will probably do it there. But thanks!

          • alvinschang

            Oh I know 🙂 I just figured I could poach you for one data column.

            I’ll keep an eye out.

          • realsaramerica

            : ) If I didn’t have that deadline too, I would. Just a little overwhelmed at present!

          • Bill Morrison


            I would LOVE to contribute with your article. Rob Stellar might be great at asking questions, but he fails miserably in answering them. I can provide data to show that graduation rates in Hartford have been grossly inflated, that students have been passed along as if on an assembly line with elementary and middle school social promotions, that (under Stephen Adamowski) student grades in teachers’ grade books were changed without the teachers’ consents, that Adamowski’s grading and attendance policies were designed specifically to graduate those students who never attended school. And, many of these policies were carried over throughout the Kishimoto regime.

            It is also interesting to note that, while Mr. Stellar has focused his uninformed rhetoric against Hartford, the national percentages of people having earned a Bachelor’s degree has traditionally hovered between 27 to 30 percent. In fact, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, the percentage of Americans with Bachelor’s Degrees topped 30 percent for the first time, with the census reporting 32 percent. He is raising a virtual non-issue. There are many, far more serious issues that seriously need resolution.

            Anyway, please contact me. I can put together a body of several teachers who would be willing to be interviewed.

          • alvinschang

            Bill, do you have a source for this data?

            > I can provide data to show that graduation rates in Hartford have been grossly inflated

          • Bill Morrison

            Yes, I do. I can show grade books of students failing core courses who were passed by the district without ever having attended school. I can show falsified grades by the district. My sources are primary sources and are beyond question.

          • alvinschang

            Interesting. Are you able to share these with us?

          • Bill Morrison

            I can only show this information without any student demographic information. Would you like to meet?

          • alvinschang

            Yes, could you e-mail me at achang@ctmirror.org?

          • If you actually spent the time to read my post and look at the data I presented, you’d realize that less than 17% of Hartford students attending neighborhood schools in that cohort obtained a degree, many of which were not 4 year degrees, putting that rate well below the national rate of 27-30% you quoted. The purpose of this post was not meant to answer the questions I raised, only to point out that more data needs to be transparent in order to create reform that will raise college graduation rates in Hartford. I don’t disagree that kids are pushed through the system and high school graduation rates were inflated, but this post had nothing to do with high school graduation rates. Of course there are numerous issues facing urban education systems, more than I can address in one post highlighting one source of data, but given the research I point out in this post, low college completion rates is definitely one of these issues.
            I would also be really interested in seeing the data you have that shows graduation rates being inflated and that grades were changed in grade books.

  • enness

    I’m not sure this is hard. Upper-middle-class suburbanites are probably not the only ones who have heard the news that a four-year degree is really bloody expensive, especially in a state with a cost of living like this.

    • realsaramerica

      True. One of my daughter’s friends, a bright young lady who I’ve known since first grade, got into a good school, went for a semester, and then realized that even with financial aid it just was too expensive and was going to leave her with crippling debt. So she didn’t go back after the first semester. My daughter and her other friends – and other parents – were trying to encourage her, but we’re not the ones who will be left with the debt. She is. And if you aren’t coming from a background where both your parents went to college and you’ve been expected to go to college since the day you were born, and your parents aren’t in a position to start saving for college since the day you were born because they’re barely making ends meet to begin with, and the Federal Govt keeps cutting loan programs, well, what’s the big surprise to me is that these statistics are are surprise to anyone. And let me be very clear – I’m not saying this because I have low expectations for kids of color or any of the ridiculous things that people in the ed reform community start accusing me of when I question the realities of “no excuses” dogma.

  • MetroHtfd Prog Pts

    There has been some analysis of existing longitudinal data, which includes data on remediation, that’s available here: http://www.ct.edu/files/pdfs/p20win/RemediationReport-Classof2010-P20WIN.pdf.

    How does this differ from the Clearinghouse data that you are using?

    • alvinschang

      It looks like the P20WIN data only look at CT CC and CSU schools. But Rob may have a better answer.

      • MetroHtfd Prog Pts

        Right; I was mostly wondering if there was a difference in methodology or what they are tracking. (For instance, I didn’t see coverage of remediation in the NCS data.) Or in other words, if you added UConn and the private colleges to the P20-WIN database, how would it differ from the NCS data?

        • alvinschang

          Hmm, interesting thought. I don’t know. Perhaps that will be a project in the near future.

  • Peter Dimoulas

    I am a teacher in New Haven who works closely with folks in workforce development because what is happening in our schools is not acceptable. Indeed, what Robbie has shared is not new. Graduates from urban districts tend not to finish or even pursue post-secondary education, and those who do take on more student debt. Additionally, they are less likely to participate in the labor force, and when they do, it is in lower wage occupations. Not surprisingly, many of our graduates do not to meet the qualifications of local businesses (especially, STEM-related), who also have difficulty finding qualified candidates. Solutions will not be easy but very dedicated professionals are hard at work every day to address this.

    Thank you for all that you do to draw attention to this important issue. If you are interested in my references, you can check out page 2 of my own report:

    • Thanks for your response and for sharing your experience and resources, Peter! Your work in New Haven is invaluable and hopefully by bringing more light to these issues we can get more resources to address them.

  • Bill Morrison

    I would be happy to meet with anyone who is interested in seeing this data. However, I cannot post the data because of student privacy issues. If you are interested in meeting, please email me at bmorri6409@sbcglobal.net.