Stat of the Week — Feb. 8, 2007

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Postsecondary Alignment Policies and College Graduation Rates

Quality Counts 2007 looks at state efforts to connect K-12 education with early childhood education, postsecondary education, and workforce preparation. The report finds that concrete readiness policies designed to prepare students for postsecondary education are less common than efforts to help students prepare to start elementary school or enter the workplace. While college readiness is an area of growing activity, in many cases state efforts have yet to be articulated in terms of policy.

In this week's Stat of the Week, the EPE Research Center looks at college graduation rates in the context of students' readiness for college. An EPE Research Center analysis conducted for Quality Counts 2007 shows that only 51 percent of students, in the entering 1998 cohort at four-year public postsecondary institutions, graduated within 150 percent of the expected time. College graduation rates in the states ranged from 70 percent in Delaware to 14 percent in the District of Columbia.

While several factors contribute to inadequate college graduation rates, lack of adequate preparation for college appears to be one impediment. In "Answers in the Toolbox: Academic Intensity, Attendance Patterns, and Bachelor's Degree Attainment," Clifford Adelman finds that the intensity and quality of high school curriculum has the most impact on bachelor's degree attainment. A number of researchers also assert that a lack of alignment between the K-12 system and the postsecondary system hampers students in reaching their postsecondary goals. In "Betraying the College Dream: How Disconnected K-12 and Postsecondary Education Systems Undermine Student Aspirations," Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader Andrea Venezia, Michael W. Kirst, and Anthony L. Antonio argue that, while most U.S. secondary school students aspire to attend postsecondary institutions, states have placed unproductive barriers between high school and college. Such barriers, they assert, result in inadequate college preparation for many students, especially those from low-income and minority groups. A dearth of good college counseling and fewer opportunities to take college preparatory courses leave these young people at a significant disadvantage.

Low-income and minority students also have lower college enrollment and graduation rates than other groups of students. For example, in "Black Male Students at Public Flagship Universities in the U.S.: Status, Trends, and Implications for Policy and Practice," Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader Shaun R. Harper reports that slightly more than one-third of 18- to 24-year old African-American male high school graduates had enrolled in college in 2000. In addition, Harper notes that the six-year graduation rate for African-American men in the entering 1998 cohort of first-year, first-time undergraduate students was 32 percent, a rate lower than that of other racial groups.

An EPE Research Center analysis of data from the National Center for Education Statistics for Quality Counts 2007 shows that, in 2002, most high school sophomores (79 percent) expected to earn at least a bachelor's degree, but only 29 percent of young adults actually did so. Similarly, Venezia, Kirst, and Antonio find that more than 80 percent of African-American and Latino students surveyed in six states expected to go on to postsecondary education. In "Closing the Aspirations-Attainment Gap: Implications for High School Reform," Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader Melissa Roderick finds that the percentage of 10th graders aspiring to higher education has increased over time and that the largest jump took place among low-income students. There appears to be a sizable gap between the aspirations of many high school students and what the data show about college graduation rates. The research of Roderick and others would suggest that college readiness is one area that states could target in order to effect change.

To find out more about college graduation rates in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, access the Education Counts database.


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