College & Workforce Readiness Opinion

Learning About Los Angeles Students’ Pathways to College

By Urban Education Contributor — November 12, 2018 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

This week we are hearing from the Los Angeles Education Research Institute (LAERI, @LAEdResearch). This post is by Carrie Miller (@Carrie_E_Miller), UCLA Ph.D. candidate and LAERI research manager.

Today’s post is written from the researcher perspective. Stay tuned: Thursday we will share the practitioner’s perspective.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, like many school districts across the country, is working to ensure that students not only graduate from high school but also enroll in and complete college. To support L.A. Unified’s efforts to increase graduates’ educational attainment, the Los Angeles Education Research Institute (LAERI) has collaborated with L.A. Unified to conduct a series of research studies on students’ college readiness and college going.

LAERI’s initial postsecondary-research studies focused on L.A. Unified graduates’ college-enrollment, persistence, and completion and the college-readiness supports available in the district’s high schools. These studies raised questions for district leaders and our research team about students’ experiences applying to college, the types of school-based support they receive during the application process, and whether those supports are associated with where similar students apply to and enroll in college. To begin to address these questions, we partnered with L.A. Unified to develop new survey questions for secondary students and school staff, which the district incorporated into its annual School Experience Survey.

What the Research Examines

Drawing on the new survey data, students’ administrative records, and National Student Clearinghouse data, we examined where L.A. Unified’s class of 2017 applied to and enrolled in college, the types of colleges to which they applied and enrolled, and the association between schools’ college-going supports and students’ college-application and -enrollment behaviors. We include 12th grade students who attend traditional and affiliated charter high schools and who participated in the survey (about 60 percent of 12th graders). We are sharing the findings from this research through a series of research briefs, which we will release periodically. This blog post discusses the findings from our first brief, which focuses on 12th graders who applied to at least one four-year college.

What the Research Finds

We find that more than 8 out of 10 students in L.A. Unified’s class of 2017 who participated in L.A. Unified’s annual survey had applied to or registered for college by January of their 12th grade year (when the district administered the survey). An additional 12 percent of students had not yet but planned to register for college. Slightly less than two-thirds of 12th graders applied to at least one four-year college, and more than half (52 percent) of 12th graders applied to four or more four-year colleges.

While 64 percent of 12th graders applied to a four-year college, our analyses of past cohorts indicate that fewer students enroll in a four-year college. (29 percent of students in the class of 2016 enrolled in a four-year college the fall after high school graduation.) To better understand the class of 2017’s college-enrollment patterns, we plan to look next at where students who applied to four-year colleges actually enrolled and examine factors that may have contributed to students’ likelihood of enrolling in a four-year college (e.g., applying for financial aid, passing all college-preparatory coursework).

Our findings also suggest that some students may need more support applying to four-year colleges. For example, Latino and African-American males were less likely to apply to four-year colleges than their female counterparts with similar grade point averages. We also find that white students with GPAs below 3.5, irrespective of gender, applied to four-year colleges at lower rates than students from other racial and ethnic groups. White students with GPAs above 3.5 applied to four-year colleges at similar rates as other students. In upcoming analyses, we plan to examine how students’ plans to attend community college relate to their demographic and socioeconomic background, the college-going climate, college-access supports available in their high schools, their educational expectations, and their plans to transfer to four-year colleges.

Implications for Practice

The findings from this first research brief suggest that most 12th graders complete an essential step on the path to a college degree—applying to or registering for college. And a large majority of 12th graders submit at least one four-year college application. Disparities in four-year college applications also suggest that some students may need more support during the application process. Moreover, many of the district’s graduates who apply to a four-year college may encounter barriers to being accepted by and enrolling in those institutions. These findings, as well as findings from future briefs, can help the district better understand students’ postsecondary pathways, including the barriers they face during the application and enrollment process, and begin to identify points of intervention for supporting students’ college choice and enrollment.

Previous blog posts from the Los Angeles Education Research Institute:

Curious about other research topics partnerships have written about for this blog? See this Guide to the NNERPP EdWeek Blog for all previous blog posts organized by research topic area to easily find other posts of particular interest to you!

Photo: Unsplash

The opinions expressed in Urban Education Reform: Bridging Research and Practice are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.