Fourteen percent of students from the least-educated, lowest-income families will earn a college degree by their late 20s, reports the National Center for Education Statistics, which tracked 10th graders for 12 years.
Only 41 percent of low-income students with high test scores earned a bachelor’s degree, wrote Susan Dynarski in the New York Times. “A poor teenager with top scores and a rich teenager with mediocre scores are equally likely to graduate with a bachelor’s degree.
Getting low-income “first generation” kids into college is hard,” writes Robert Pondiscio in U.S. News. “Getting them to graduate from college is harder.”
As a teacher at New York City’s Democracy Prep Charter High School, he’s proud to see the school’s 61 graduates head off to colleges that include Dartmouth, Yale, Princeton, Brown and Emory. All are Latino or African-American.
Democracy Prep calls them the “class of 2019” to stress that their goal is a bachelor’s degree. But how many will make it?
For years, pioneering charter school networks like KIPP, YES Prep, and others won legions of admirers by ensuring that nearly every student they graduated went to college, usually the first in their families to do so. A 2011 report from KIPP itself, however, found that only 33 percent of their earliest cohorts of students had actually earned a college degree. On the one hand, that’s roughly four times higher than the rate for disadvantaged students as a whole. But it was far below KIPP’s own internal goals and a wake-up call for a reform movement that had long championed college as an essential path to upward mobility.
Since then, KIPP and others have become increasingly focused on “college match.” This typically means identifying colleges with high graduation rates both overall and for low-income students, generous financial aid, and other factors from high-touch academic advising to a diverse social environment, all of which make it more likely for “first generation” kids to persist, succeed, and earn a degree.
KIPP Through College helps graduates choose courses, keep up their grades and deal with financial aid issues.
Democracy Prep, which has two small graduating classes in college, also stays in touch with alumni. So far, nearly nine out of 10 Democracy Prep students remain enrolled.
In a story on D.C. charters, Debra Bruno describes how Thurgood Marshall Academy has boosted its college-graduation rate.