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High School-to-College Enrollment Counts Depend on Income Level of Students

School poverty, not minority level, continues to be the strongest indicator of college enrollment. College enrollment rates in the first fall after graduation for students from low income public high schools ranged from 47 percent to 58 percent, and these students were more likely to attend a two-year college. In comparison, students from higher income, low minority suburban high schools had the highest college enrollment rates — 73 percent.

This data comes from a report issued by the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center, which does longitudinal research in American education. The "High School Benchmarks: National College Progression Rates" drew its findings from a voluntary sample of high schools representing more than 3.5 million students, about a quarter of all graduates nationally.

The schools participate in a "StudentTracker for High Schools" service run by the NSC. Participants of that pay an annual fee of $425 to receive analytic data reports that detail postsecondary access and success outcomes for up to eight cohorts of their graduating classes. The research center pointed out that the data of the larger report "is not a nationally representative sample of schools or of high school graduates." Compared to all high schools in the United States, participants tend to have greater representation of low income students, minority enrollments and urban locales.

This is the second year that the report has been done. It has expanded to include breakouts of data for public non-charter, public charter and private high schools.

The goal of the report, according to Doug Shapiro, NSC's executive research director, is to "provide educators with meaningful benchmarks for schools like [theirs] so they can focus on improving outcomes for all students."

Among this year's findings for the class of 2013:

  • Once income was controlled for, there was no difference between urban, suburban and rural high minority schools. Just over half of graduates from low income schools enrolled in the first fall, regardless of locale. Among higher income schools, the rates were similar across locales, between 61 and 63 percent.
  • 60 percent of students who graduated from public charter schools in 2013 enrolled in college in the fall, immediately after high school graduation. Among private schools, 86 percent of graduates enrolled.
  • Students from higher income and low minority suburban schools were not only more likely to enroll in colleges, but they were also more likely to enroll to attend private institutions following high school.
  • Students from higher income high schools had higher persistence rates in college — continuing from the first year into the second year — than those from low income high schools. Regardless of high school type, persistence rates among students who enrolled in private colleges and universities were higher than those in public institutions. Persistence rates for all students were also higher in four-year institutions than in two-year institutions. (The data for this analysis was pulled from the high school graduating class of 2011.)

"This report draws with bold relief the disparities in college access that are aligned with income levels in our schools," said Daniel Domenech, executive director of the School Superintendents Association. "As a nation, we must do all we can to address the educational challenges facing students at low-income schools. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center points the way with these valuable benchmarks, empowering principals and superintendents to develop meaningful goals and drive improvement on objectively measured outcomes."

The free 137-page report is available on the NSC Research Center site.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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