Study: Percentage of CPS students who go straight to college up over last decade

In 2015, 63 percent of Chicago Public Schools high school graduates immediately enrolled in a two- or four-year college, a substantial increase from a decade ago, according to a new report from the University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research.

The 13-percentage-point increase from 2006 was driven in part by a growing number of students enrolling in four-year colleges, researchers found. But the enrollment rate gains were not shared equally by African-American and Latino graduates in 2015, according to the study. Race-based gaps in immediate college enrollment that year “were much wider in Chicago than gaps seen nationally,” the report said.

The district’s overall 63 percent college enrollment rate lagged behind a national average of 69 percent, researchers said. Graduates who attended low-income high schools nationally had an immediate college enrollment rate of 54 percent, the study said.

The percentage of CPS ninth-graders the consortium estimated would earn a bachelor’s degree within a decade of starting high school last year didn’t change from the estimate a year earlier. Researchers again estimated, based on data from 2016, that 18 percent of CPS ninth-graders would graduate from a four-year college within 10 years of starting high school. That projection includes students who first enroll in a community college after leaving high school or delay starting higher education.

Still, when combined with other academic factors including the number of freshmen believed to be on track to graduate from high school, researchers believe the college graduation statistics will continue to improve.

“Increasing college enrollment, taken together with recent increases in CPS students’ Freshman OnTrack rates, ACT scores, and high school (grade point averages), suggests the number of CPS graduates attaining a bachelor’s degree will rise over time,” consortium deputy director Jenny Nagaoka said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the consortium said its conclusions about college enrollment patterns could have big implications. Researchers noted that the “focus on students’ immediate transition masks the range of college enrollment experiences,” because many students enter college well after finishing high school.

For example, the consortium said close to a fifth of CPS graduates in 2009 enrolled in a college program within six years of leaving the district. And roughly a quarter of that year’s graduates who immediately enrolled in a four-year colleges eventually transferred down to a two-year program.

“These findings suggest that if we only pay attention to the students who make the immediate transition to college after high school graduation, and if we assume that these students stay in their institutions, we are losing sight of, and insights about, a sizable number of students,” the report’s authors said.

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