Income continues to be one of the strongest overall factors in predicting what choices high school students make regarding college, according to new data released by the National Student Clearinghouse.
The High School Benchmarks Report, now in its second year, seeks to compile information regarding the transfer from high school to college made by millions of students every year. 2014’s report broke public non-charter high schools into 12 groups based on income levels, as well as whether they had high minority populations and whether they were urban, suburban, or rural.
The NSC’s data-mining found that schools with lower-income populations, in addition to having generally lower graduation rates, are also significantly less likely to send students who do graduate on to college. At high schools where over 50 percent of students qualified for cheaper school lunches, the threshold at which a school was classed as “low income,” 47 to 58 percent of high school graduates would go on to some kind of college the following fall. At schools deemed “higher income,” between 61 and 73 percent of graduates went on to some kind of college education.
The gap between the two school types only grows with the passage of time. At high-income schools, over 85 percent of graduates who matriculate at a college stick around past their first year, while the rate is only about 79 percent at low-income schools, a significant, if not enormous, gap.
The disparity would be significantly greater if it looked beyond those who actually earned degrees, as low-income schools also have significantly lower graduation rates in the first places.
The NSC does not go into the possible reasons for the disparity, which are likely diverse and could include greater difficulty paying for college, a heightened need to immediately enter the workforce, lower cultural emphasis on pursuing education, or low-income high schools producing graduates who are overall less prepared for college-level work.
A school’s minority population or how urban it was also influenced the college attendance rate, though to a significantly lower degree than income. However, these factors did play a major role in the kind of institution attended. High income schools with a high minority population (over 40 percent black or Hispanic) sent nearly half of college-bound seniors to two-year institutions, a figure largely in line with those for low-income schools. At high-income schools with low minority populations, less than a third of college-bound graduates chose two-year schools over four-year ones, a disparity that set such schools well apart from all other types.
Notably, while high-income schools with high minority populations were less likely to send students to college than high-income schools with few minorities, the situation was somewhat reversed at lower income levels, where suburban and rural schools with few minorities were actually less likely to send graduates on to college than those with more.
NSC’s data looked at charter schools and private schools as well, albeit in significantly less detail. Sixty percent of charter school graduates immediately went on to a college following graduation, a figure that may encourage charter advocates as it is slightly ahead of the low-income schools charters typically compete with. Private schools did far better, with 86 percent of graduates immediately moving on to college.
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