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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

The readiness is (almost) all

Who goes to college? Enrollment rates vary widely by family income, race and ethnicity and gender, but among students of similar academic preparation, blacks are the mostly likely to enroll in college, according to a report by Sarah Reber and Ember Smith.

They analyzed test scores, high school grades and course-taking to assess academic preparation.

Photo: Mart Production/Pexels

Asian students are the most prepared for college, by far, and 83 percent enroll, compared to 72 percent of whites, 63 percent of Hispanics and 62 percent of black students.

However, comparing students with similar preparation, "Asian students are the least likely to enroll in four-year college — about 18 percentage points less likely than Black students, who have the highest rate of four-year college enrollment."

Socioeconomic status (SES) predicts who will go to college. In part, that's because SES strongly correlates with academic preparation. However, looking at academic preparation narrows, but doesn't eliminate, the college-going gap, Reber and Smith write.

Looking at academic preparation does eliminate the gender gap: 73 percent of girls and 64 percent of boys enroll in college.

The study doesn't look at why students' academic preparation varies. Reber and Smith write:

For example, a student might not have taken advanced math because it is not offered at their school, because they did not have strong math instruction in their early schooling, or because they did not spend enough time studying, which itself could be influenced by factors beyond the student’s control. Group differences in academic preparation could result from discrimination, ongoing or historical, affecting students’ opportunities to learn through a wide range of channels. And academic preparation could be influenced by students’ expectations about their access to college; if they do not think they will be able to attend college for financial reasons, for example, they might not spend as much time studying in high school.

"College isn't the only path to upward mobility," writes Fordham's Michael Petrilli on Twitter. "But it's a great path, so these data matter. Also, what we really want to know is how these trends look for COLLEGE COMPLETION." This isn't just about high school, he adds. "College readiness gaps begin in kindergarten."

I'm going to take a wild guess: Academic preparation for college strongly correlates with college completion.

Money matters: Students whose families can fund for five or more years of college to finish a four-year degree -- very common these days -- will have an edge. Students who try to combine community college with a nearly full-time job have very low completion rates.

But academics matters a lot.

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