College & Workforce Readiness

College Attainment: So Far to Go

By Catherine Gewertz — May 18, 2009 1 min read

A Brookings Institution gathering last week focused on what high schools should do to help disadvantaged students prepare for college. And a couple of breathtaking data points popped up to illustrate why they need to try harder than ever.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who was the CEO of the Denver schools until his move to Capitol Hill, told the attendees in his keynote address that only 9 percent of Denver students are projected to earn college degrees. The figure is similar in the District of Columbia, said Renee Faulkner of its Office of the State Superintendent of Education. It’s only 8 percent in Chicago, said Jenny Nagaoka, who helps lead the high-school-to-college studies at the Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Was it me, or did the room spin when those numbers hit the air? Was there ever a simpler and more compelling reason to get high school right once and for all?

The policy brief that formed the basis for the meeting calls on high schools to do better in two areas to make sure disadvantaged students have college options: building their content and study skills, and providing comprehensive support to help them learn about, apply to, and get financial aid for college. It calls on policymakers to build data systems that can track students into college, so high schools get a clear picture of how well they’ve done their job.

The spring issue of “The Future of Children,” which Brookings and Princeton University put out jointly, explores the challenges facing American high schools in greater detail.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School Connections blog.