There’s a Great College Counseling Tool Available For Free, and CPS Isn’t Using It

Why aren’t Chicago’s high school students using a college counseling tool that can help them find proven match colleges? Because the Noble Network of Charter Schools created it. Central office is too overstretched to spread the word about it. And many Chicago Public Schools staff don’t want to use a tool that comes from a charter network they hate.

But here’s why it would be worth fighting an uphill battle to change minds and hearts. Because Noble keeps close track of where its graduates are rejected, accepted and receive financial aid, it can pool all that information and make strong predictions about where current seniors are likely to win acceptance and scholarships. If you ever wondered what “predictive analytics” means in the real world, here’s a great example.

Here’s how the tool works. Informally known as “the Bot,” it’s an Excel spreadsheet that’s armed with information about the colleges where students in previous Noble Network graduating classes were accepted and denied, and the financial aid awards they received. Once students enter their grades, ACT scores, and demographic information, they get back a customized list of colleges and universities that shows their chances of admission and each school’s graduation rates.

Graduation rates at colleges and universities–both overall and for students of color–are an important piece of data in making admissions decisions. Contrary to what you might think, the harder it is to be admitted to a school, the more likely a student is to graduate from it once admitted. So it’s important to make sure that seniors apply to the most competitive colleges their grades and test scores will allow them to try for.

Unfortunately, that’s not how most CPS students are thinking when they make college decisions. Research from the Consortium on Chicago School Research shows that typically, CPS graduates enroll in colleges with low graduation rates. In a 2014 report, they showed that for the previous eight years, the top 4-year institutions where CPS graduates had enrolled were: University of Illinois-Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Northern Illinois University, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, De Paul University, Chicago State University, Columbia College Chicago, Western Illinois University and Illinois State University.  With the exceptions of Urbana-Champaign, De Paul and Illinois State, these schools graduated less than half of the CPS students who had enrolled there in the years between 2000 and 2006.

CPS Must do More to Help High Schoolers Think Smarter About College

In short, the schools CPS seniors are most likely to know and want to attend are, for the most part, very unlikely to help them get the bachelor’s degree they very much want and need to succeed. By contrast, the schools the Bot steers students toward have stronger track records of graduating their students, including under-represented minority students.

A new tool from CPS central office may not be much help for students in targeting their college applications wisely. In February, CPS sent personalized progress reports to all sophomores and juniors across the city that suggest “reach,” “match,” and “unlikely” colleges and universities within Illinois. Though, as Chalkbeat Chicago reports, the new information is intended to spark conversations among students, families and counselors, two counselors from Westinghouse College Prep described the progress reports as “a missed opportunity.” The counselors faulted the reports for failing to include graduation rates.

Matt Niksch, Noble’s chief college officer and the brain behind the Bot, says he’s been giving it away to any taker he can find. So far that includes “most charter high schools in the city,” the New York Department of Education, and KIPP. Over the last five years, Niksch has had a number of conversations with central office higher-ups. “They’d say, ‘this is great, we need to get it in the schools, but there was no follow through,'” he says.

Niksch says a handful of counselors in district-run high schools have reached out to him directly, but it’s hard to get wider traction. In conversations with others who could help share the Bot more broadly within CPS, he says he was asked, “Can we launder your tool so it doesn’t look like it came from Noble?”

Dear CPS: It’s time to stop trying to reinvent the wheel. There’s a proven, quality tool that can help your students find colleges where they can get accepted, win financial aid and graduate. Let’s get past the charter-district divide here and put this tool to work. Meanwhile, counselors, if you want to step up and find out more for yourselves, Niksch is not hard to find. You can track him down on Twitter and I’m sure he’ll be happy to share the Bot with you.






Photo by Cassandra Hamer on Unsplash

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Maureen Kelleher

Chicago Unheard blog manager Maureen Kelleher also serves as a senior writer and editor at brightbeam, a nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and brighter future for every child. Before joining the brightbeam team, she spent a decade as a reporter, blogger and policy analyst. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. A former high school English teacher, she is also the proud mom of a middle-schooler. Find her on Twitter at @KelleherMaureen.

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