Sunday, March 16, 2008

Schools don't do enough to help kids get into 4-year colleges, study says

But many try vocational, 2-year schools instead; report says city high schools should do more to help them apply

Carlos Sadovi | Chicago Tribune
March 13, 2008

A large number of Chicago public high school students "sell themselves short" by attending two-year colleges or vocational schools when they could go on to four-year colleges, a new report says.

The study, "From High School to the Future: Potholes on the Road to College," released Wednesday, found that many students simply gave up trying to go to four-year colleges, discouraged or intimidated by the application and financial-aid processes.

The three-year study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago found that Latino students were least likely to apply to four-year schools.

The consortium analyzed data on 5,100 Chicago public high school graduates in 2005, and interviewed 105 students in three high schools.

Among the key findings, researchers found that teachers and school culture had more influence than parents did on whether students went on to four-year colleges.

As a result, the authors concluded, schools must do more to help students work through the often grueling process of getting to college.

District officials say the study coincides with changes already under way in the system. Some programs include teaming up students with "coaches" who focus on getting them through the application process, easing financial-aid application hurdles, and offering visits to four-year colleges in Illinois and across the country.

While the study focused on Chicago students, Melissa Roderick, the study's lead author, said the study could apply to "any school system in the United States."

"Most of our CPS kids are going to colleges well below the colleges they are qualified to attend," Roderick said. "You go with what you know. This sends precisely the wrong message to students. If you are going to tell them they need to work hard to go to college, you have to have that work pay off."

According to the study, about 95 percent of the 2005 grads said they wanted to continue their education. But only 59 percent of those who wanted to go to four-year college ever applied, and just 41 percent enrolled that fall.

Roderick, a co-director at the consortium, said Latino students face a particular set of challenges: They are less likely to have parents who have gone to a four-year college and are less able to navigate through financial-aid forms. Although many parents encourage students to pursue college, the students most often limit themselves, the study found.

Only 46 percent of all Latino students applied to four-year colleges, and only 30 percent of Latino students enrolled in the fall. Immigration status did not seem to matter.

The study found that many students they analyzed tended to sell themselves short. About one-third of CPS students apply to colleges that "match or exceed their qualifications."

About 45 percent of African-American students went on to schools that matched or exceeded their qualifications, but the number dropped to about 28 percent for Latino students.

Carlos Azcoitia, the founding principal of the Spry Community School and still a consultant for the South Lawndale school, said schools have to step in and help applicants. He said that often parents who went no further than high school must be educated so that they don't push their children to get jobs right out of school.

District officials acknowledged the problem. Greg Darnieder, director of post-secondary education and student development, said that in 2004 the district began employing post-secondary coaches, now found in 27 high schools.

He said the district is also sponsoring more trips for students to visit colleges. He noted that more than 450 students will be going on a variety of college trips next week during spring break, ranging from Ivy League schools to traditional black and Latino colleges. The district also next year plans to begin sending 11th graders a list of 10 to 12 schools that match their academic performance, Darnieder said.

Roosevelt High School senior Amanda Perez credits her college coach with helping her navigate through financial-aid forms and apply to four-year schools.

Perez, who plans to attend Illinois State University in the fall, said her coach encouraged Perez to attend retreats dealing with financial-aid issues, sent her to visit colleges and helped her fill out applications.

"I don't know if I would be able to do this on my own, it would have been very difficult," she said.

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