This Week in CPS: College Enrollment Rises among CPS Grads and Latinx Students Lead the Charge

There’s good news today about college enrollment for CPS graduates. New data show that about two-thirds of the graduating class of 2017 enrolled in college. Moreover, new tweaks to data collection now include students who start in the spring semester after graduation or attend certain Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other schools. This new method of c bring the count up to 68 percent of graduates starting college within a year of graduating from high school.

By comparison, back in 2010, only slightly more than half of Chicago Public Schools graduates enrolled in college.

Latinx students are spearheading the recent increase in college enrollment, with a jump of seven percentage points from 2016 to 2017.

In a press release announcing the increase, CPS credited partnerships with programs like Gear Up and OneGoal for helping to boost college enrollment. And they are very important.

But I think there’s more to the story. First of all, the increasing number of high school graduates in CPS obviously increases the pool of potential college students. That’s due to the work high schools are putting in to keep freshmen on-track. I know that in many schools, that on-track work with students does not stop after freshmen year. Grade-level teams and administrator continue to monitor student attendance and course failures all the way through high school. And the monitoring is getting smarter and more targeted.

Also, the work of the Consortium on Chicago School Research in showing that high school grades matter more than test scores for college persistence is having an impact. Teachers are digging deeper on the quality of work they assign to make sure it prepares students for college. Increasingly, school staff are letting students know that to make it in college, they’ll need a GPA of 3.0 or higher. That’s a steady B average. If college is the goal, less than a B average is not acceptable.

Also, there has been significant work to improve academic advising and college counseling in CPS. Mandates like ensuring every senior fills out the FAFSA (federal aid for college) form and the new requirement that every senior complete a plan for life after high school are part of the shift. While counseling and guidance in CPS high schools still aren’t fully where we would want them to be, but they seem to have moved a long way from when I wrote about the often-invisible school counselor back in 2003.

The Network for College Success has been breaking ground in this area, by supporting and developing school counselors to manage large caseloads of college applicants and to have the challenging conversations about race, equity and expectations needed to ensure all kids get the guidance they need to find the right college for them. Network for College Success high schools have been outpacing the district college enrollment figures for years. I suspect they are the workhorse schools pulling the district average up!

Right here in my neighborhood we have some anecdotal evidence of the change that is happening across the district. In 2016, Demareo Jones graduated from Richards High School as a Gates Millennium Scholar, heading to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He was the first-ever Richards grad to win the highly selective scholarship.

Slow, steady efforts to improve teaching and learning inside high schools, coupled with smart partnerships and training to improve college advising, are making a difference for CPS students. This is work that has persisted through two mayors and a slew of district CEOs, so here’s hoping it will continue through the next wave of change yet another new mayor might unleash. But, as the graph CPS provided shows, the next frontier will be even more challenging: helping those CPS college entrants stay there all the way through graduation.

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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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