College & Workforce Readiness Opinion

Learning About Post-High School Pathways of Baltimore Youths

By Urban Education Contributor — February 05, 2018 3 min read
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This week we are hearing from the Baltimore Education Research Consortium (BERC, @BaltimoreBERC). This post is by Rachel E. Durham, Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins University (@JohnsHopkins) and researcher at BERC.

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

Almost 10 years ago, the Baltimore Education Research Consortium (BERC) began partnering with Baltimore City Public Schools (City Schools) to investigate college access among Baltimore city graduates, using data from the National Student Clearinghouse (Connolly, Olson, Durham & Plank, 2014; Durham, Ruiz, & Connolly, 2017). At that time, we found that about 50 percent of graduates enrolled in college the fall after graduation. However, there was little precedent to put that number into any context. Relative to national estimates of college enrollment the year after high school, this percentage perhaps seemed a bit low; but then again, Baltimore city students aren’t representative of the national population, as about 80 percent of City Schools students qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

Additionally, these college enrollment metrics only capture a small part of the college story and completely miss youth involvement in the workforce. Anecdotally, school staff knew that many students worked during high school and hoped to work full time after graduation. This led BERC to ask, are graduates who are not enrolling in college entering the workforce to start their careers?

To respond to this question and get a more complete picture of the pathways Baltimore youth are taking after high school, BERC established a partnership with Baltimore’s Promise and the Maryland Longitudinal Data System (MLDS), allowing BERC to examine employment outcomes among City Schools graduates as well as college enrollment. The national conversation in schools and districts about college and career readiness is often focused on metrics such as SAT or ACT scores, or proficiency levels on state assessments (PARCC, 2018; Smarter Balanced, 2018). BERC’s partnership with MLDS allowed greater insight into post-high school pathways of youth in Baltimore and filled in previous gaps in our knowledge of Baltimore students’ post-graduation successes and challenges.

What we found confirmed that approximately 50 percent of City School graduates enrolled in college, with about half of these also working at the same time. It turned out, however, that only about half of the remaining 50 percent were working for Maryland businesses, which means that about a quarter of each cohort of graduates are neither enrolled in college nor working in the state’s formal labor force.

There are a number of caveats to the data, not the least of which is that it’s incapable of telling us more about these remaining 25 percent of graduates—they could have gone to another state to work, enlisted in the military, or been incarcerated. To examine the size of this potential data error, we checked to see what share of graduates never appeared in the Maryland wage records. The answer was less than 6 percent, which makes us trust the data more. We feel we have a start of developing an understanding, but there’s still a great deal of research to be done to gather a fuller picture of the post-high school pathways of Baltimore’s youths.

Another unsettling finding is that only about 16 percent of our graduates are earning a livable wage six years after high school. Even among those who completed degrees, only 23 percent are earning a livable wage.

BERC’s findings are of importance to Baltimore’s education institutions, employers, the government, and employee training programs and can be a starting point for implementing policies and supports to improve Baltimore graduates’ career and college access.

Additionally, this project showed that a careful balance of data protections and external access to the data can be achieved and support the meaningful work of a project like Baltimore’s Promise. It also allowed MLDS to demonstrate to its constituency the value of providing external researchers access to the data. The BERC researchers also provided firsthand feedback on protocols and procedures so that MLDS can ensure requirements are stringent yet manageable. For both sides, the relationship provides opportunities to continuously improve.

BERC would like to thank Baltimore’s Promise and the Abell Foundation for support to do this work.

Previous blog posts by the Baltimore Education Research Consortium:

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.