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c c s r

CONSORTIUM ON

CHICAGO SCHOOL RESEARCH

AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO

Research Report

March 2008

ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>:

ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

Melissa Roderick, Jenny Nagaoka, Vanessa Coca, Eliza Moeller

with Karen Roddie, Jamiliyah Gilliam, and Desmond Patong>toong>n


Acknowledgements

In ong>theong> late winter of 2005, CCSR researchers asked students in 12 junior English classrooms ong>toong> join a longitudinal

study of students’ experiences in making ong>theong> transition ong>toong> college. In three neighborhood high schools, we recruited

students from three IB classrooms, three AP classrooms, and six regular English classes. We ong>toong>ld students ong>theong>y were

ong>theong> experts who could help us understand what works, what needs ong>toong> be improved, and how ong>toong> make Chicago high

schools do a better job of supporting students as ong>theong>y made ong>theong> transition ong>toong> college or work. We ong>toong>ld students that

ong>theong>y would not get any benefits from participating, but we asked ong>theong>m ong>toong> join us in helping Chicago schools become

better for ong>theong>ir younger broong>theong>rs and sisters and for all students who would come after ong>theong>m. In a testament ong>toong> ong>theong>

character of CPS students, more than 85 percent of ong>theong> recruited students volunteered ong>toong> join ong>theong> study—so many

that we could, unfortunately, not include ong>theong>m all. For three years, students gave up lunch breaks, talked ong>toong> us about

ong>theong>ir experiences and plans, and allowed us ong>toong> continue ong>toong> follow ong>theong>m after ong>theong>y graduated. Their teachers allowed

us ong>toong> visit ong>theong>ir classrooms, gave up free periods ong>toong> be interviewed, and voluntarily filled out individual assessments

of each student in our study. We are indebted ong>toong> ong>theong>se students and teachers for ong>theong> many hours of time ong>theong>y

volunteered, as well as ong>toong> ong>theong> principals and staffs of ong>theong> high schools in which we worked, who allowed this study

ong>toong> happen and supported it over two years. The students, teachers, and oong>theong>r school staff truly were ong>theong> experts

who guided our quantitative analysis and provided critical insights. In ong>theong> end, we hope we have delivered on our

promise ong>toong> ong>theong>se students and have assembled ong>theong>ir experiences and our analysis inong>toong> a report that will assist CPS

educaong>toong>rs and policymakers in building effective systems that bridge ong>theong> gap between students’ college aspirations,

ong>theong>ir college access, and ong>theong>ir college success.

Along ong>theong> way, many individuals have helped shape this report and make our work possible. In addition ong>toong> ong>theong>

report authors, all of ong>theong> members of our research staff have contributed ong>toong> this report, from interviewing students and

teachers ong>toong> observing classrooms, ong>toong> helping lay ong>theong> groundwork for qualitative and quantitative analysis, ong>toong> shaping our

understanding through impromptu discussions. We would like ong>toong> thank project researchers Jonah Deutsch, Amy Proger,

Elaine M. Allensworth, Ginger Song>toong>ker, Andy Brake, Macarena Correa, and Camille Farringong>toong>n and our technical readers

Angela Garcia, Stuart Luppescu, Takako Nomi, and Cindy Murphy. We would also like ong>toong> thank our research assistants

and transcribers who were invaluable ong>toong> our research, particularly Alissa Cambronne, Liz Hogg, Manuel Barragán,

Jessica Brown, Sara Budowsky, Kristin Buller, Trisha Curran, Michele Dubuisson, Kelly Gartland, Sarah Hooker, Sarah

Idzik, Thomas Kelley-Kemple, Karen Kinsley, Emily Lundell, Melinda Magleby, Jocelyn Moore, Caryn Olsen, Amanda

Posner, Sara Powers, Stacey Shin, Elizabeth Song>toong>larczuk, Brandon Thorne, and Erica Zaklin.

The public informing staff at CCSR, particularly Tracy Dell’Angela, were instrumental in helping us edit and produce

this report. We are indebted ong>toong> CPS staff who provided technical advice, data support, and analytical support and

guidance throughout this research, particularly Greg Darnieder, Gudelia Lopez, and Kelly Sparks. We are also indebted

ong>toong> ong>theong> CCSR staff and our affiliated postsecondary researchers for feedback, guidance, and support at all stages

of this project, particularly John Q. Easong>toong>n, Penny Sebring, Sue Sporte, Sara Goldrick-Rab, and Jim Rosenbaum.

Thanks also ong>toong> Carlos Azcoitia and ong>theong> members of ong>theong> CCSR Steering Committee for ong>theong>ir comments and feedback,

particularly Veronica Anderson, Don Fraynd, Arie van der Ploeg, Brian Spittle, Kim Zalent, and Josie Yanguas.

We would like ong>toong> especially thank our program officer at ong>theong> Gates Foundation, Sheri Ranis, who provided feedback

and guidance on our analysis.

Finally, ong>theong> administrative staff at ong>theong> ong>Schoolong> of Social Service Administration—Keith Madderom, Beverly Mason,

Gidget Ambuehl, Suzanne Fournier, Anita Balgopal Goodnight, John McDonald, John Adamczewski, and Sid Ulevicius—

provided support for this work. SSA’s staff always made us feel that our work was important and never made us feel that

we were asking ong>toong>o much. We owe a special debt of gratitude ong>toong> ong>theong> staffs of ong>theong> Hyde Park and Ukrainian Village Subway

restaurants who made hundreds of lunches for us, ong>toong>ok special orders, and helped us affordably deliver on our promise

ong>toong> provide students in our study with a tasty lunch ong>toong> enjoy during ong>theong>ir interviews.

The study is funded by grants from ong>theong> Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, ong>theong> William T. Grant Foundation, and ong>theong>

Spencer Foundation.

ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College


Table of Contents

Executive Summary .............................................................................1

Introduction ........................................................................................9

Chapter 1: The Problem: Translating Aspirations inong>toong> College Access

and Attainment ...........................................................................................13

Chapter : ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College: Are Students Taking ong>theong>

Steps ong>toong> Apply ong>toong> and Enroll in a Four-Year College? .................................... 5

Chapter : Case Studies ..............................................................................53

Chapter 3: The Problem of College Match: What Kinds of Colleges Do

CPS Students Enroll in, Given ong>theong>ir Qualifications? ....................................67

Chapter 3: Case Studies .............................................................................87

Chapter 4: Interpretive Summary ...........................................................97

References .......................................................................................105

Appendix A: Description of Selectivity Ratings Used in this Report .............109

Appendix B: Data Used in this Report .................................................. 111

Appendix C: Adjusting for Missing NSC Data ....................................... 115

Appendix D: Variables Used in this Analysis .......................................... 116

Appendix E: Models Used in this Report ...............................................1 0

Appendix F: Summary of College Planning Websites ...............................1 4

Endnotes .........................................................................................1 7

consortium on chicago school research at ong>theong> university of chicago

2


4 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College


Executive Summary

Over ong>theong> past several decades, ong>theong> United States has witnessed a dramatic

shift in ong>theong> educational aspirations of high school students, particularly

among low-income and minority students. Thirty years ago, ong>theong> task of

applying ong>toong> college was not on ong>theong> agenda of most students in American high

schools. In 1980, only 40 percent of all tenth-graders and only 0 percent of

low-income tenth-graders hoped ong>toong> complete at least a bachelor’s degree. 1 In

005, 83 percent of Chicago Public ong>Schoolong>s (CPS) seniors stated that ong>theong>y

hoped ong>toong> earn a bachelor’s degree or higher, and an additional 13 percent

aspired ong>toong> attain a two-year or vocational degree.

Since 004, ong>theong> Consortium on Chicago ong>Schoolong> Research (CCSR) has

tracked ong>theong> postsecondary experiences of successive cohorts of graduating

CPS students and examined ong>theong> relationship among high school prepara-

tion, support, college choice, and postsecondary outcomes. The goal of this

research is ong>toong> help CPS understand ong>theong> determinants of students’ postsec-

ondary success and ong>toong> identify key levers for improvement. Our first report

in this series, ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: A First Look at Chicago Public

ong>Schoolong> Graduates’ College Enrollment, College Preparation, and Graduation

from Four-Year Colleges, provided a baseline of where CPS song>toong>od as a school

system. We looked at how many students enrolled in college and what types

of schools ong>theong>y attended, and we examined ong>theong> role of students’ qualifications

(e.g., grades, test scores, and course-taking patterns) in shaping access ong>toong>

and graduation from college. The conclusion of our first report, confirming

a significant body of research on ong>theong> link between high school performance

and college access and graduation, is that increasing qualifications is ong>theong>

most important strategy for CPS students ong>toong> improve college participa-

tion, access ong>toong> four-year and more selective colleges, and ultimately college

graduation rates.

2

consortium on chicago school research at ong>theong> university of chicago 1


This report, ong>theong> second report in ong>theong> series, looks

beyond qualifications ong>toong> examine wheong>theong>r CPS students

who aspire ong>toong> four-year colleges are effectively

participating in ong>theong> college search and application

process and where ong>theong>y encounter potholes on ong>theong>

road ong>toong> college. Drawing on prior research, we examine

both how students manage ong>theong> college application

process and what types of colleges students apply ong>toong>

and ultimately enroll in. First, are CPS students who

aspire ong>toong> attend a four-year college taking ong>theong> steps ong>theong>y

need ong>toong> enroll in a four-year college? Second, do CPS

students effectively participate in college search and get

ong>theong> support ong>theong>y need ong>toong> make informed choices about

what colleges ong>theong>y could apply ong>toong> and what colleges

may best fit ong>theong>ir needs?

A critical goal of this report is ong>toong> understand where

CPS students encounter difficulty and success as ong>theong>y

navigate ong>theong> college search and application process,

as well as ong>theong> extent ong>toong> which high school educaong>toong>rs

can create environments that support students in

thoroughly engaging in this process. Thus, throughout

this report, we pay particular attention ong>toong> differences

in students’ experiences across high schools. We

examine wheong>theong>r ong>theong> norms for college enrollment of

high school environments shape students’ likelihood

ong>toong> plan ong>toong> attend, apply ong>toong>, and enroll in four-year

colleges. Supporting students in ong>theong> college search

and application process also requires that high schools

be organized ong>toong> maximize information and guidance

for students as ong>theong>y cross critical hurdles. While this

report is not intended ong>toong> provide a blueprint for what

high schools should be doing, wherever possible we

have tried ong>toong> examine ong>theong> impact of ong>theong>se critical steps

in determining wheong>theong>r and where students who aspire

ong>toong> attend a four-year college ultimately enroll.

Examining Students’ College Search,

Application, and Match Process: The

Data and Organization of this Report

In this report we use both qualitative and quantitative

data ong>toong> identify ong>theong> barriers students face, and we focus

specifically on ong>theong> extent ong>toong> which high school practices

and environment shape students’ participation in ong>theong>

college search and application process and ong>theong>ir college

ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

enrollment patterns. We surveyed seniors about ong>theong>ir

college plans and activities and used CPS’s postsecondary

tracking system ong>toong> follow successive cohorts of

CPS graduates inong>toong> college. We also talked ong>toong> students.

In addition ong>toong> using qualitative data ong>toong> elaborate on

some of ong>theong> findings presented in this report, we also

present case studies from our qualitative study, each

of which highlights a student who struggled at a different

point in ong>theong> postsecondary planning process.

These case studies draw on our longitudinal, qualitative

study of 105 CPS students in three high schools.

They represent common ong>theong>mes that emerged from

our qualitative work.

For students ong>toong> enroll in a suitable four-year college,

ong>theong>y must effectively negotiate two sets of tasks. First,

ong>theong>y must take a series of basic steps for four-year college

enrollment: ong>theong>y must submit applications on time,

apply for financial aid, gain acceptance, and ultimately

enroll. Second, throughout this process, beyond hitting

benchmarks, students must also be fully engaged in ong>theong>

often overwhelming task of finding ong>theong> right college

for ong>theong>m. This means thinking about what kinds of

colleges ong>theong>y will likely be admitted ong>toong>, what kind of

college experience ong>theong>y want, and which colleges fit

those descriptions. They must search for and decide

upon a set of colleges that best meet ong>theong>ir needs and

provide a good college match. As we will illustrate

in Chapter 1, CPS students are predominantly lowincome,

first-generation college-goers, and previous

research finds that ong>theong>se students are particularly likely

ong>toong> encounter problems in both of ong>theong>se sets of tasks.

Clearly, ong>theong>se two sets of tasks are intertwined and

are part of a larger process of college search and selection,

but it is important ong>toong> distinguish between ong>theong>se

two ideas: taking ong>theong> steps ong>toong> enroll in college and

engaging in ong>theong> process of finding ong>theong> right college.

Students could take ong>theong> steps necessary ong>toong> enroll in a

four-year college but fail ong>toong> conduct a broad college

search, limiting ong>theong>ir applications. Or, students could

conduct a broad college search, but miss important

steps or deadlines. In Chapter , we focus on ong>theong> first

set of tasks: do students who aspire ong>toong> attain a four-year

college degree take ong>theong> steps necessary ong>toong> enroll in a

four-year college? In Chapter 3, we look at ong>theong> second

set of tasks and consider ong>theong> messier question of college


match. In ong>theong>se two chapters, we analyze how students’

negotiation of ong>theong>se tasks, as well as ong>theong>ir schools’ college

climate, impacts wheong>theong>r ong>theong>y enroll in a four-year college

(Chapter ) and where ong>theong>y enroll (Chapter 3).

Key Findings

1. Cps students who aspire ong>toong> complete a four-year

degree do not effectively participate in ong>theong> college

application process.

Among CPS students who aspire ong>toong> attain a four-year

degree, only 41 percent ong>toong>ok ong>theong> steps necessary in ong>theong>ir

senior year ong>toong> apply ong>toong> and enroll in a four-year college.

An additional 9 percent of students managed ong>toong> enroll

in a four-year college without following ong>theong> standard

Figure 11

Only Figure 41 11. percent Only 41 of percent cps graduates of CPS graduates who aspired who aspired ong>toong> complete ong>toong> complete a four-year a four-year degree degree ong>toong>ok ong>toong>ok ong>theong>se steps and enrolled in in a four-year a four-year college

college in ong>theong> fall in after ong>theong> graduation. fall after graduation—an An additional 9 percent additional enrolled 9 percent in college enrolled without in taking college ong>theong>se without steps. taking ong>theong>se steps

Tracking students through ong>theong> steps ong>toong> college enrollment:

Voc/

Tech

2 4 14 8

Don’t

Know

100

Two-Year Oong>theong>r Plans

Aspired ong>toong> Complete a Four-Year

or Graduate Degree

Note: These figures are based on ong>theong> ong>Potholesong> Sample (see Appendix B for details).

72

13

Did Not Apply

steps, for a ong>toong>tal of 50 percent of all CPS students who

aspired ong>toong> a four-year degree. Our look at CPS seniors’

road from college aspirations ong>toong> enrollment identifies

three critical benchmarks that even well-qualified students

ong>toong>o often failed ong>toong> make. First, many students

opt ong>toong> attend a two-year or vocational school instead

of a four-year college. Fewer than three-quarters (7

percent) of students who aspired ong>toong> attain a four-year

degree stated in ong>theong> spring that ong>theong>y planned ong>toong> attend

a four-year college in ong>theong> fall. Second, many students

who hoped ong>toong> attend a four-year college do not apply.

Only 59 percent of CPS graduates who stated that ong>theong>y

aspired ong>toong> attain a four-year degree ever applied ong>toong> a fouryear

college. Third, even students who apply ong>toong> and are

accepted at a four-year college do not always enroll.

Planned ong>toong> Attend a Four-Year

College in ong>theong> Fall

59

8

Not Accepted

Applied ong>toong> a Four-Year College

51

10

Not Enrolled

Accepted Inong>toong> a

Four-Year College

41

Enrolled in a

Four-Year College

Executive Summary 3


• students of all levels of qualifications have difficulty

taking ong>theong> steps ong>toong> enroll in a four-year college.

Students who aspired ong>toong> attain a four-year degree

and graduated with low GPAs and ACT scores,

and thus very limited access ong>toong> college, were

unlikely ong>toong> plan ong>toong> attend, apply ong>toong>, or be accepted

ong>toong> four-year colleges. However, many of ong>theong> more

qualified students did not consider attending a

four-year college, and even some who planned ong>toong>

attend did not apply. Only 73 percent of students

qualified ong>toong> attend a somewhat selective college

(ong>theong> majority of four-year colleges in Illinois)

expected ong>toong> attend a four-year college in ong>theong> fall,

and only 61 percent applied. Similarly, only 76

percent of students qualified ong>toong> attend a selective

four-year college applied ong>toong> a four-year college,

even though students with access ong>toong> a selective

four-year college were accepted at very high rates

when ong>theong>y applied.

• Latino students have ong>theong> most difficulty managing

college enrollment.

Latino students were ong>theong> least likely ong>toong> plan ong>toong>

enroll in a four-year college after graduation and

ong>theong> least likely ong>toong> apply ong>toong> a four-year college. Only

60 percent of Latino graduates who aspired ong>toong>

attain a four-year degree planned ong>toong> attend a four-

year college in ong>theong> fall, compared ong>toong> 77 percent of

African-American and 76 percent of White/Oong>theong>r

Ethnic graduates. Fewer than half of Latino students

who aspired ong>toong> a four-year degree applied ong>toong> a

four-year college, compared ong>toong> about 65 percent

of ong>theong>ir African-American and White/Oong>theong>r

Ethnic counterparts. One common explanation

for why Latino CPS students do not enroll in

four-year colleges is that ong>theong>y are immigrants.

However, we found that immigrant status does

not fully explain ong>theong> gap in college enrollment

between Latino and oong>theong>r students; after controlling

for immigrant status, qualifications, and

oong>theong>r student characteristics, Latino students are

still 13 percentage points less likely ong>toong> enroll in a

four-year college than African-American students.

4 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

2. Attending a high school with a strong collegegoing

culture shapes students’ participation in ong>theong>

college application process.

Across all our analyses, ong>theong> single most consistent predicong>toong>r

of wheong>theong>r students ong>toong>ok steps ong>toong>ward college

enrollment was wheong>theong>r ong>theong>ir teachers reported that

ong>theong>ir high school had a strong college climate, that

is, ong>theong>y and ong>theong>ir colleagues pushed students ong>toong> go

ong>toong> college, worked ong>toong> ensure that students would be

prepared, and were involved in supporting students in

completing ong>theong>ir college applications. Indeed, students

who attended high schools in which teachers reported

a strong college climate were significantly more likely

ong>toong> plan ong>toong> attend a four-year school, apply, be accepted,

and enroll. Importantly, having a strong college climate

seemed ong>toong> make ong>theong> biggest difference for students

with lower levels of qualifications. In addition, ong>theong>

college plans and behaviors of Latino students in CPS

are particularly shaped by ong>theong> expectations of ong>theong>ir

teachers and counselors and by connections with

teachers. This suggests that Latino students may be

much more reliant than oong>theong>r students on teachers

and ong>theong>ir school for guidance and information, and

that ong>theong>ir college plans are more dependent on ong>theong>ir

connections ong>toong> school.

3. Filing a FAFsA and applying ong>toong> multiple colleges

shape students’ likelihood of being accepted ong>toong> and

enrolling in a four-year college.

Applying for financial aid is not easy, but it may be

ong>theong> most critical step for low-income students on ong>theong>

road ong>toong> college. It is also one of ong>theong> most confusing

steps, and it is a point at which many CPS students

stumble. Our analysis finds, moreover, that many CPS

students may end up facing higher costs for college

because ong>theong>y do not take ong>theong> step of filing a Free

Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which

is needed ong>toong> maximize federal, state, and institutional

support. In addition, CPS has set ong>theong> goal that students

should apply ong>toong> at least five colleges ong>toong> maximize ong>theong>ir

options. Our analysis supports this approach.


• Not filing a FAFsA may be a significant barrier ong>toong>

college enrollment for Cps students.

Students who reported completing a FAFSA by May

and had been accepted inong>toong> a four-year college were

more than 50 percent more likely ong>toong> enroll than students

who had not completed a FAFSA. This strong

association holds even after we control for differences

in students’ qualifications, family background and

neighborhood characteristics, and support from

teachers, counselors, and parents. Not surprisingly,

Latino students who aspire ong>toong> complete a four-year

degree were ong>theong> least likely ong>toong> report that ong>theong>y had

completed a FAFSA.

Figure 19

Figure students 19. Students who were who accepted were accepted inong>toong> a inong>toong> four-year a four-year college college were

much were more much likely more ong>toong> likely enroll if ong>toong> ong>theong>y enroll completed if ong>theong>y completed ong>theong> FAFSA ong>theong> fafsa

Difference in college enrollment by wheong>theong>r students completed ong>theong>ir

FAFSA among students who were accepted inong>toong> a four-year college:

Completed

FAFSA

Did Not

Complete

FAFSA

0

5

12

10

34

20

55

40

84

Percent Enrolled in a Four-Year College

No College Enrolled in a Two-Year College Enrolled in a Four-Year College

Note: FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) completion rates come from

student responses ong>toong> ong>theong> 2005 CPS Senior Exit Questionnaire. Numbers are based on ong>theong>

ong>Potholesong> Sample (see Appendix B for details).

• Applying ong>toong> multiple colleges makes it more likely that

students will be accepted ong>toong> a four-year college.

Controlling for students’ qualifications, family

background, and reports of ong>theong> individual support

ong>theong>y received from teachers, counselors, and

parents, students who applied ong>toong> at least one fouryear

college were more likely ong>toong> be accepted if ong>theong>y

applied ong>toong> three or more, and particularly six or

more, schools. The effect of multiple applications

was most significant for students who have lower

levels of qualifications. It is ong>theong>se students who

may have ong>theong> most difficulty getting accepted at

60

80

100

a four-year college. Their likelihood of acceptance

is most affected by wheong>theong>r ong>theong>y are active in ong>theong>

application process and by wheong>theong>r ong>theong>y attend

schools where ong>theong> norm is applying ong>toong> multiple

colleges.

4. Only about one-third of Cps students who aspire

ong>toong> complete a four-year degree enroll in a college

that matches ong>theong>ir qualifications.

In this report, we use ong>theong> concept of “match” ong>toong> describe

wheong>theong>r a student enrolled in a college with a

selectivity level that matched ong>theong> kind of colleges ong>theong>

student would likely have been accepted ong>toong>, given his

or her high school qualifications. College “match” is

an easily quantifiable outcome, but ultimately finding

ong>theong> right college means more than gaining acceptance

ong>toong> ong>theong> most competitive college possible. It is about

finding a place that is a good “fit:” a college that meets

a student’s educational and social needs, as well as one

that will best support his or her intellectual and social

development. Match is just one consideration of ong>theong>

larger process of engaging in an effective college search,

but it is also an important indicaong>toong>r of wheong>theong>r students

are engaged more broadly in a search that incorporates

ong>theong> larger question of fit. Furong>theong>rmore, research, including

our own, has consistently found that college choice

matters, particularly for well-qualified students; ong>theong>re is

wide variation in college graduation rates, even among

colleges that serve similar students.

When we examined match among CPS students,

ong>theong> dominant pattern of behavior for students who

mismatch is not that ong>theong>y choose ong>toong> attend a fouryear

college slightly below ong>theong>ir match. Raong>theong>r, many

students mismatch by enrolling in two-year colleges

or not enrolling in college at all. Across all students,

about two-thirds (6 percent) of students attended a

college with a selectivity level that was below ong>theong> kinds

of colleges ong>theong>y would have most likely been accepted

ong>toong>, given ong>theong>ir level of qualifications.

• Among ong>theong> most highly qualified students in Cps, only

38 percent enroll in a match college.

One-quarter of students with qualifications ong>toong>

attend a very selective college enrolled in a college

with a slightly lower level of selectivity (a selective

Executive Summary 5


college). About 0 percent enrolled in a somewhat

selective college (a college with a selectivity rating

far below ong>theong>ir level of qualifications). An additional

17 percent enrolled in a nonselective four-year college,

a two-year college, or no college at all. Taken

ong>toong>geong>theong>r, ong>theong> most-qualified students were equally

likely ong>toong> not enroll in college or enroll in a college

far below ong>theong>ir match (37 percent) as ong>theong>y were ong>toong>

enroll in a very selective college (38 percent).

• Mismatch is an issue among Cps students of all levels

of qualifications.

Students in our sample with access ong>toong> selective

colleges (e.g., DePaul University or Loyola University)

were actually less likely ong>toong> match than ong>theong>ir classmates

with access ong>toong> very selective colleges. Only 16

percent of students with access ong>toong> selective colleges

enrolled in a match college. An additional 11 percent

enrolled in a very selective college, a rating higher

than ong>theong>ir match category—what we term “above

match.” Thus only 7 percent of CPS graduates in

ong>theong> Match Sample with access ong>toong> a selective college

enrolled in a selective or very selective college, while

fully 9 percent of ong>theong>se students enrolled in a twoyear

college or did not enroll at all. This mismatch

problem is nearly as acute for students who had

access ong>toong> somewhat selective colleges (ong>theong> majority

of four-year public colleges in Illinois).

5. Among ong>theong> most highly qualified students,

having discussions on postsecondary planning and

having strong connections ong>toong> teachers is particularly

important in shaping ong>theong> likelihood of enrolling in a

match school.

In addition, we found that all students were much

more likely ong>toong> match if ong>theong>y attended schools with

strong college-going cultures. Thus, attending a high

school where teachers are oriented ong>toong> prepare and

support students in ong>theong>ir postsecondary aspirations

has a strong impact on wheong>theong>r students go on ong>toong>

attend a match college.

6 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

Concluding Points

No Child Left Behind has made closing ong>theong> gap in

educational achievement among racial/ethnic groups

and between low-income students and ong>theong>ir more

advantaged peers a priority of every school in ong>theong>

United States. One area where we have seen dramatic

reductions in gaps across race/ethnicity and income is

in educational aspirations. But we know that closing

ong>theong> gap in high school performance is critical if we are

ong>toong> help students attain ong>theong>ir college aspirations. In our

last report, we found that poor qualifications undermined

CPS students’ college access and performance.

We argued that central ong>toong> improving college access was

getting students ong>toong> increase ong>theong>ir qualifications, work

harder, and value ong>theong>ir classroom performance.

If we are ong>toong> ask students ong>toong> work harder and value

achievement, educaong>toong>rs and policymakers must work

equally as hard ong>toong> deliver on ong>theong> promise that if students

achieve high levels of qualifications, ong>theong>y will have

equal access ong>toong> ong>theong> kinds of colleges and opportunities

as ong>theong>ir more advantaged counterparts. In a world of rising

college costs, CPS educaong>toong>rs unfortunately will have

difficulty delivering on that promise. But, ong>theong> findings

of this report demonstrate ong>theong> myriad of ways in which

CPS students, even ong>theong> highest performers, are disadvantaged

as ong>theong>y work ong>toong> translate those qualifications

inong>toong> college enrollment. Too many Chicago students

who aspire ong>toong> attain a four-year college degree do not

even apply ong>toong> a four-year college. Too many students

who are accepted do not enroll. In this report, we show

how ong>theong> social capital gap—ong>theong> extent ong>toong> which students

have access ong>toong> norms for college enrollment, information

on how ong>toong> prepare and effectively participate

in college search and selection, and effective guidance

and support in making decisions about college—shapes

students’ college access. Like previous research, we find

that low-income students struggle in ong>theong> process of

college search and application and encounter potholes

that divert ong>theong>m off ong>theong> road ong>toong> four-year colleges. The

good news in this report is ong>theong>re are ways that CPS

teachers, counselors, and administraong>toong>rs can improve

college access for students: ensuring that students who

aspire ong>toong> attain a four-year degree get ong>theong> help ong>theong>y need

ong>toong> understand how ong>toong> make decisions about potential


colleges, making sure that students effectively participate

in ong>theong> college application process and apply

for financial aid in time ong>toong> maximize ong>theong>ir financial

support, and urging students ong>toong> apply ong>toong> colleges that

match ong>theong>ir qualifications.

The analysis in this report suggests two important

take-home messages ong>toong> educaong>toong>rs. The first is that educaong>toong>rs

must realize that preparation will not necessarily

translate inong>toong> college enrollment if high schools do not

provide better structure and support for students in ong>theong>

college search, planning, and application process. 3 The

second take-home message is that if ong>theong> most highly

qualified students do not attend colleges that demand

high qualifications, ong>theong>n ong>theong>ir hard work has not paid

off. Making hard work worthwhile must be a central

goal if CPS is going ong>toong> ask all students ong>toong> work hard and

value ong>theong>ir course performance and achievement.

Paying attention ong>toong> wheong>theong>r students effectively

participate in ong>theong> college search and application process

could be an essential support for high school reform

if we use it ong>toong> convince students that working hard

in high school and valuing achievement will pay off

for ong>theong>m in ong>theong> future. This task is not an easy one.

The interpretative summary highlights three critical

areas that high schools must develop if ong>theong>y are ong>toong>

help students understand why achievement matters,

aspire ong>toong> postsecondary institutions that demand that

achievement, and obtain access ong>toong> those institutions

by effectively participating in college search and

selection. These areas are: (1) building strong systems

of support for ong>theong> college search and application process

during junior and senior years; ( ) creating strong

Endnotes

1 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education

Statistics ( 004).

2 Titus ( 004); Roderick, Nagaoka, and Allensworth ( 006).

3 McDonough (1997); Cabrera and La Nasa ( 000); Gonzales,

Song>toong>ner, and Jovel ( 003).

college-going cultures that set norms for college attendance

and provide information, relationships, and access

ong>toong> concrete supports and expert knowledge ong>toong> build

bridges ong>toong> ong>theong> future; and (3) providing access ong>toong>

information and guidance in obtaining financial aid,

information about how ong>toong> afford colleges, and ong>theong> true

costs of different college options.

Indeed, ong>theong> findings of this report raise ong>theong> question:

What will it take ong>toong> build new systems of support and

new capacity at ong>theong> district, school, and classroom

levels? The problems outlined in this report are complex,

and we have provided no easy list of solutions.

The scope suggests that multiple and varied solutions

will be required and must include a focus on building

capacity. What are we asking teachers, counselors, and

school staff ong>toong> accomplish? What are ong>theong> best ways of

organizing systems of supports, staffing, and information

that will build ong>theong> capacity of teachers, counselors,

and schools—and ultimately of parents and students?

What kinds of incentives, programmatic and personnel

resources, and management systems will best promote

a strong focus on college access in a diverse set of high

schools? CPS has already begun ong>toong> take ong>theong> first steps

ong>toong> build a system ong>toong> support its students on ong>theong> road ong>toong>

college with its postsecondary initiatives, but ong>theong> task

will also require substantial resources from ong>theong> district

and strong commitments from each high school ong>toong>

develop new approaches and capacity. We hope ong>theong>

analysis and data provided in this report provide a

useful ong>toong>ol for policymakers, educaong>toong>rs, and ong>theong> larger

community ong>toong> begin this work.

Executive Summary 7


8 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College


Chapter Introduction 1

Over ong>theong> past several decades, ong>theong> United States has witnessed a dramatic

shift in ong>theong> educational aspirations of high school students, particularly

among low-income and minority students. Thirty years ago, ong>theong> task of

applying ong>toong> college was not on ong>theong> agenda of most students in American

high schools. In 1980, only 40 percent of all tenth-graders and only 0

percent of low-income tenth-graders hoped ong>toong> complete at least a bachelor’s

degree. 1 The gap in college aspirations across racial/ethnic groups and

income levels has narrowed significantly; newer estimates suggest that ong>theong>

majority of low-income students and nearly three quarters of all Latino and

African-American students aspire ong>toong> complete at least a bachelor’s degree.

These changed aspirations reflect ong>theong> dramatic shift in ong>theong> economic

landscape facing ong>toong>day’s students. Rising payoffs ong>toong> skills and stagnating

earnings among ong>theong> non-college educated mean that completing some form

of postsecondary education is critical if students are ong>toong> succeed in ong>theong> new

economy. Occupational projections suggest that ong>theong> majority of new jobs

available in ong>theong> U.S. economy will require at least some postsecondary

education or training, and ong>theong> jobs that require ong>theong> most education have ong>theong>

fastest projected increases in earnings. 3

Rising aspirations have direct implications for high schools. When

only a small proportion of students aspired ong>toong> attend college, it was easy ong>toong>

delegate ong>theong> task of college preparation ong>toong> a small group of elite high schools

and programs or a small number of dedicated teachers and counselors. The

task posed ong>toong> educaong>toong>rs by ong>toong>day’s high school students and ong>theong>ir families is

daunting. What will it mean ong>toong> change high schools from institutions that

prepare a select group of students for college enrollment ong>toong> institutions that

prepare ong>theong> majority of high school students for this goal?

2

consortium on chicago school research at ong>theong> university of chicago 9


The Chicago Public ong>Schoolong>s (CPS) has become

a national leader in taking on this issue. In 003,

CPS established ong>theong> Department of Postsecondary

Education and Student Development, charged with

ensuring that all CPS students have access ong>toong> ong>theong> courses,

opportunities, and experiences that will prepare

ong>theong>m for a viable postsecondary education or career.

As part of this initiative, CPS became ong>theong> first major

school system in ong>theong> country ong>toong> track and report ong>theong>

college participation rates of its graduates using data

from ong>theong> National Student Clearinghouse (NSC). This

initiative also included new supports ong>toong> build strong

postsecondary guidance systems and accelerated efforts

ong>toong> expand participation in rigorous coursework, such

as Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

Central ong>toong> realizing ong>theong> potential of CPS’s postsecondary

planning efforts is better understanding

where CPS currently stands as a school system and

what matters most in shaping students’ postsecondary

access, choices, and experiences. ong>Highong> school

educaong>toong>rs and ong>theong> school system need ong>toong> ong>theong>n consider

ong>theong> implications of ong>theong>se findings for ong>theong>ir efforts ong>toong>

improve students’ postsecondary outcomes. Since

004, ong>theong> Consortium on Chicago ong>Schoolong> Research

(CCSR) has tracked ong>theong> postsecondary experiences

of successive cohorts of graduating CPS students

and examined ong>theong> relationship among high school

preparation, support, college choice, and postsecondary

outcomes. The goal of this research is ong>toong> help CPS

understand ong>theong> determinants of students’ postsecondary

success and ong>toong> identify key levers for improvement.

Our first report in this series, ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong>

ong>Futureong>: A First Look at Chicago Public ong>Schoolong>s Graduates’

College Enrollment, College Preparation, and Graduation

from Four-Year Colleges, provided a baseline of where

CPS song>toong>od as a school system. We looked at how many

students enrolled in college and what types of schools

ong>theong>y attended, and we examined ong>theong> role of students’

qualifications in shaping access ong>toong> and graduation

from college.

This report, ong>theong> second in ong>theong> series, follows up on

several important but unresolved issues identified in

our first report. Why is ong>theong>re such a large gap between

ong>theong> educational aspirations of students and ong>theong>ir college

enrollment? Why do CPS students tend ong>toong> enroll in a

10 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

limited number of colleges, many of which have very

low institutional graduation rates? Why do we see such

dramatic differences across high schools and across

racial/ethnic groups in college attendance? While

poor high school performance is part of ong>theong> answer ong>toong>

ong>theong>se questions, we could not completely explain ong>theong>

patterns of college enrollment solely on ong>theong> basis of

students’ high school qualifications and demographic

characteristics. Our first report suggested that “high

schools must pay attention ong>toong> guidance and support

if students are ong>toong> translate qualifications inong>toong> college

enrollment,” but our report did not provide evidence

ong>toong> help educaong>toong>rs think about how ong>toong> do this. The

purpose of this second report is ong>toong> begin ong>toong> fill this

gap by looking closely at ong>theong> ways in which students

who aspire ong>toong> attend four-year colleges participate in

ong>theong> college search and application process.

We use both qualitative and quantitative data ong>toong>

identify ong>theong> barriers students face, and we focus specifically

on ong>theong> extent ong>toong> which high school practices

and environment shape students’ participation in ong>theong>

college search and application process and ong>theong>ir college

enrollment patterns. We surveyed seniors about ong>theong>ir

college plans and activities and used CPS’s postsecondary

tracking system ong>toong> follow successive cohorts of

CPS graduates inong>toong> college. We also talked ong>toong> students.

Over ong>theong> past three years, we followed 105 juniors in

three Chicago high schools, interviewing ong>theong>m as ong>theong>y

navigated ong>theong> college search and application process

and ultimately as ong>theong>y did or did not enter college. This

report examines how CPS students manage ong>theong> college

search and application process and at what points ong>theong>y

face difficulties.

For students ong>toong> enroll in a suitable four-year college,

ong>theong>y must effectively negotiate two sets of tasks. First,

ong>theong>y must take a series of basic steps for four-year college

enrollment: ong>theong>y must submit applications on time,

apply for financial aid, gain acceptance, and ultimately

enroll. Second, throughout this process, beyond hitting

benchmarks, students must also be fully engaged

in ong>theong> often overwhelming task of finding ong>theong> right

college. This means thinking about what kinds of

colleges ong>theong>y will likely be admitted ong>toong>, what kind of

college experience ong>theong>y want, and what colleges fit those

descriptions. They must search for and decide upon a


set of colleges that best meet ong>theong>ir needs and provide

a good college match. As we will illustrate in Chapter

1, CPS students are predominantly low-income, firstgeneration

college-goers, and previous research finds

that ong>theong>se students are particularly likely ong>toong> encounter

problems in both of ong>theong>se sets of tasks.

Clearly, ong>theong>se two sets of tasks are intertwined and

are parts of a larger process of college search and selection,

but it is important ong>toong> distinguish between ong>theong>se

two ideas: taking ong>theong> steps ong>toong> enroll in college and

engaging in ong>theong> process of finding ong>theong> right college.

Students could take ong>theong> steps necessary ong>toong> enroll in a

four-year college but fail ong>toong> conduct a broad college

search, limiting ong>theong>ir applications. Or, students could

conduct a broad college search but miss important steps

or deadlines. In Chapter , we focus on ong>theong> first set of

tasks: do students who aspire ong>toong> attain a college degree

take ong>theong> steps necessary ong>toong> enroll in a four-year college?

In Chapter 3, we look at ong>theong> second set of tasks and

consider ong>theong> messier question of college match. In ong>theong>se

two chapters, we analyze how students’ negotiation

of ong>theong>se tasks, as well as ong>theong>ir schools’ college climate,

impacts wheong>theong>r ong>theong>y enroll in a four-year college

(Chapter ) and where ong>theong>y enroll (Chapter 3).

A critical goal of this report is ong>toong> understand where

CPS students encounter difficulty and success as ong>theong>y

navigate ong>theong> college search and application process,

as well as ong>theong> extent ong>toong> which high school educaong>toong>rs

can create environments that support students in

thoroughly engaging in this process. Thus, throughout

this report, we pay particular attention ong>toong> differences

in students’ experiences across high schools. We

examine wheong>theong>r ong>theong> norms for college enrollment

of high school environments shape wheong>theong>r students

are likely ong>toong> plan ong>toong> attend, apply ong>toong>, and enroll in

four-year colleges. Supporting students in ong>theong> college

search and application process also requires that

high schools be organized ong>toong> maximize information

and guidance for students as ong>theong>y cross critical

hurdles. While this report is not intended ong>toong> provide

a blueprint for what high schools should be doing,

wherever possible, we have tried ong>toong> examine ong>theong>

impact of ong>theong>se critical steps in determining wheong>theong>r

and where students who aspire ong>toong> attend a four-year

college ultimately enroll.

Whenever a school system takes on a new problem

and begins ong>toong> look at ong>theong> related data, it may raise issues

that are both uncomfortable and controversial. Many

such issues are identified in this report. We want ong>toong> recognize

ong>theong> CPS administration and high school leaders

for being willing ong>toong> engage in this difficult process.

The issues we talk about in this report are not specific

ong>toong> Chicago. The problems and barriers we identify are

faced by urban and low-income students throughout

ong>theong> United States. The difference is that CPS is leading

ong>theong> nation in trying ong>toong> address ong>theong>se issues, allowing

us ong>toong> better understand ong>theong> experience of its students.

The answers ong>toong> ong>theong> problems we have identified will

be complex. There are many high schools in Chicago

that are working hard on ong>theong>se problems and already

have made significant progress. This report is not

intended as a judgment of ong>theong> efficacy of ong>theong>se efforts.

Raong>theong>r, it is intended ong>toong> provide schools with critical

frameworks and information ong>theong>y can use ong>toong> assess ong>theong>ir

own efforts and engage in constructive dialogue over

how ong>toong> interpret our findings and develop innovative

solutions. We hope that ong>theong> school system, individual

high schools, and postsecondary institutions will use

this report as an opportunity ong>toong> rise ong>toong> ong>theong> challenge

of our students’ aspirations.

Introduction 11


1 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College


Chapter 1

The Problem: Translating Aspirations

inong>toong> College Access and Attainment

Chicago public schools (Cps) Juniors Answer this Question:

“Pretend I don’t know anything about how ong>toong> get ong>toong> college.

What do you need ong>toong> do between now and ong>theong> end of senior year?”

Zahra

African-American Student with Qualifications ong>toong> Attend a Very Selective College or University

You need ong>toong> talk ong>toong> your counselor. . . . So I’d probably go ong>toong> two counselors ong>toong>

get information about colleges, open house dates, ong>toong>urs . . . You need ong>toong> write

good essays, so you need ong>toong> get ong>theong>m edited . . . [The deadline] depends on if

you want ong>toong> do early admission or regular . . . I say now that I’m going ong>toong> go ong>toong>

ong>theong> [college] that offers me ong>theong> most money, but ong>theong>n I think about how I came

ong>toong> [my high school], and it’s like once you go ong>toong> ong>theong> campus–if you really like it,

that’s where you should go.

Andrew

African-American Student with Qualifications ong>toong> Attend a Somewhat Selective College or University

[You need ong>toong>] stay in school and go ong>toong> class and get good grades and get some

of those service learning hours . . . You go ong>toong> ong>theong> college fairs and you pick up

ong>theong> applications or whatever. You fill it out . . . and I guess you mail it . . . I will

probably apply ong>toong> any school that I get an application from when I go ong>toong> ong>theong> college

fair—[and go ong>toong>] whichever one I can get ong>theong> best offer.

Miguel

Latino Student with Qualifications ong>toong> Attend a Very Selective College or University

I’m not even sure [what ong>theong> steps are], ong>theong>y just ong>toong>ld me ong>toong> try ong>toong> get applications

in by ong>theong> beginning of ong>theong> year and ong>theong>y have ong>toong> fill ong>theong>m up and ong>theong>n after that,

after Christmas break you have ong>toong> turn in your financial aid sheet . . . I still don’t

have any [applications] . . . I’m still kind of like confused about it, because I’m not

really sure what ong>toong> do.

2

consortium on chicago school research at ong>theong> university of chicago 13


What does it take ong>toong> get ong>toong> college? As ong>theong>se CPS

juniors illustrate, ong>theong> answer ong>toong> this question is not particularly

straightforward for many students. Students

who aspire ong>toong> attend college face a complex array of

tasks in ong>theong>ir junior and senior years. Getting ong>toong> college

requires CPS students ong>toong> struggle with very specific

questions about ong>theong> college search and application

process. How do you learn about different colleges?

How do you apply? How do you decide what college

is right for you? How do you finance ong>theong> increasing

costs of college?

As more and more students plan ong>toong> attend college,

ong>theong> application process has become its own growth industry.

Go inong>toong> any booksong>toong>re and you will find an entire

section devoted ong>toong> ong>theong>se questions. There are books

describing different colleges, books on how ong>toong> find ong>theong>

right college, books on how ong>toong> write effective college

applications, and books on how ong>toong> finance college.

Well-informed students are turning ong>toong> ong>theong>se sources

for directions ong>toong> navigate ong>theong> daunting road ong>theong>y face

in ong>theong> transition from high school ong>toong> college.

Research consistently finds that low-income students,

particularly first-generation college students

(students who are ong>theong> first in ong>theong>ir family ong>toong> attend college),

do not effectively participate in ong>theong> college search

and application process. 4 Often, a lack of information

and support creates significant barriers ong>toong> college

access. How can CPS students better navigate ong>theong> road

ong>toong> college? How can high schools best support students

in effectively participating in ong>theong> college search and

application process? And, what are ong>theong> “potholes” along

ong>theong> road that may divert students from ong>theong>ir aspirations?

This report looks at ong>theong>se questions using data

from a multi-year research project at ong>theong> Consortium

on Chicago ong>Schoolong> Research (CCSR) at ong>theong> University

of Chicago. In this chapter, we review previous research

and lay out our framework for ong>theong> “potholes on ong>theong>

road ong>toong> college” and provide ong>theong> Chicago context for

our analysis in this report.

Rising Aspirations for College

Thirty years ago, ong>theong> task of applying ong>toong> college was not

on ong>theong> agenda of most juniors and seniors in American

high schools. Rising aspirations mean, however, that

most CPS juniors and seniors are grappling with ong>theong>

question of how ong>toong> best navigate ong>theong> road ong>toong> college.

Like ong>theong>ir counterparts nationally, Chicago students

have high educational aspirations. In CCSR’s April

005 survey, 83 percent of seniors stated that ong>theong>y

hoped ong>toong> earn a bachelor’s degree or higher, and an

additional 13 percent aspired ong>toong> attain a two-year

or vocational degree (see Figure 1). Parents seem ong>toong>

be supporting ong>theong>ir children’s aspirations. Fully 90

percent of CPS seniors stated in CCSR’s 005 survey

that ong>theong>ir parents wanted ong>theong>m ong>toong> attend college in ong>theong>

fall after high school graduation (see Figure 1). Latino

CPS students, reflecting national trends, were slightly

less likely ong>toong> aspire ong>toong> complete a four-year degree

and slightly fewer reported that ong>theong>ir parents wanted

ong>theong>m ong>toong> attend college. Still, 95 percent of Latino

seniors stated that ong>theong>y hope ong>toong> complete some form of

postsecondary education and 87 percent stated that

ong>theong>ir parents wanted ong>theong>m ong>toong> attend college.

Figure 1

almost all cps graduates hope ong>toong> complete some form of

postsecondary Figure 1. Ninety-five education, percent and of 2005 ong>theong>ir Chicago parents Graduates want ong>theong>m ong>toong>

attend college

What is ong>theong> highest level of education you plan ong>toong> complete?

All

White/

Oong>theong>r Ethnic

African-American

Asian-American

Latino

4 9 83

4 7 86

7 13 75

Tech/Voc Certificate Two-Year Degree Four-Year Degree or ong>Highong>er

All

White/

Oong>theong>r Ethnic

African-American

Asian-American

14 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

0

2 7 87

2 94

What do you think your parents/guardians want you ong>toong> do next year?

Latino

20

Percent of Graduates

Go ong>toong> College

Note: These numbers are based on student responses ong>toong> ong>theong> 2005 CCSR Senior Survey.

They do not include students in special education or students attending alternative high

schools. A ong>toong>tal of 6,850 graduates reported on ong>theong>ir own aspirations and 6,277 graduates

reported on ong>theong>ir parents’ aspirations.

40

90

87

91

92

96

60

80

100


ong>Highong> and rising aspirations ong>toong> attend college is

not a problem in and of itself. The problem, as we

document in this and ong>theong> previous report, is that CPS

students have difficulty translating ong>theong>ir aspirations

inong>toong> college enrollment. Figure shows college enrollment

in ong>theong> fall after high school graduation among

005 CPS seniors who aspired ong>toong> attain any type of

postsecondary degree. Among 005 graduates, only

61 percent of seniors who aspired ong>toong> continue ong>theong>ir

education enrolled in any postsecondary institution

ong>theong> fall after graduation. Among those who aspired ong>toong>

attain a four-year college degree (see Figure 3), 65 percent

enrolled in a college but fewer than half enrolled

in a four-year college. Latino and African-American

students are ong>theong> least likely ong>toong> enroll in college. Only

half of Latino students who planned ong>toong> continue ong>theong>ir

education enrolled in college, and only 37 percent

of Latino students who hoped ong>toong> complete at least a

four-year degree enrolled in a four-year college. Latino

students are much less likely ong>toong> enroll in a four-year

college, despite being only slightly less likely than ong>theong>ir

CPS classmates ong>toong> aspire ong>toong> attend college. Thus, ong>theong>

gap between aspirations and enrollment is largest for

Latino students, but remains a consistent problem for

students across all racial/ethnic groups.

The Prevailing Explanations

How do we understand why so many CPS students

who aspire ong>toong> complete a four-year college degree have

difficulty attaining ong>theong>ir aspirations? Over ong>theong> past several

years, ong>theong> national policy discussion has coalesced

around two central explanations: (1) low academic

preparation and ( ) ong>theong> declining real value of financial

aid combined with rising college costs. There is strong

evidence that racial/ethnic minority and low-income

students are much less likely ong>toong> leave high school with

ong>theong> qualifications that give ong>theong>m access ong>toong> college and

are critical ong>toong> college performance and persistence. 5 We

examined this in our first report, and we summarize

ong>theong> relevant findings in ong>theong> next section.

Rising college costs are also an important barrier.

Low-income students face dramatically different postsecondary

options from ong>theong>ir more advantaged peers

because of ong>theong> rising costs of college, ong>theong> declining real

value of federal financial aid, and ong>theong> resulting higher

net college price faced by low-income families. 6 In 007

alone, ong>theong> average tuition and fees, excluding room and

board, at United States colleges rose at double ong>theong> rate

of inflation ong>toong> $6,185 at public four-year colleges and

fully $ 3,71 at private four-year colleges. 7 Financial

Figure 2

Figure 2. More than 90 percent of CPS graduates hope ong>toong> complete a

More

college

than

degree,

90

but

percent

only 61

of

percent

cps graduates

of those graduates

hope ong>toong>

enroll

complete

in college

a

college by ong>theong> fall degree, after graduation but only 61 percent of those graduates enroll

in college by ong>theong> fall after graduation

Of graduates who aspire ong>toong> complete at least a two-year degree:

All (92%)

White/

Oong>theong>r Ethnic (93%)

African-American (94%)

Asian-American (96%)

Latino (88%)

(Percent of each group

who aspire ong>toong> complete at

least a two-year degree)

0

20

50

61

Percent Enrolling in College in ong>theong> Fall

Note: These numbers are based on student responses ong>toong> ong>theong> 2005 CCSR Senior Survey and

NSC data. They do not include students in special education or students attending alternative

high schools.

Figure 3

Figure 3. Eighty-three percent of CPS graduates hope ong>toong> complete

Eighty-three at least a four-year percent college of cps degree, graduates but fewer hope than ong>toong> half complete of ong>theong>se

at graduates least a enroll four-year in a four-year college degree, college in but ong>theong> fewer fall than half

of ong>theong>se graduates enroll in a four-year college in ong>theong> fall

Of graduates who aspire ong>toong> complete at least a four-year degree:

All (83%)

White/

Oong>theong>r Ethnic (86%)

African-American (87%)

Asian-American (94%)

Latino (75%)

(Percent of each group

who aspire ong>toong> complete at

least a four-year degree)

0

37

20

48

48

54

Note: These numbers are based on student responses ong>toong> ong>theong> 2005 CCSR Senior Survey and

NSC data. They do not include students in special education or students attending alternative

high schools.

62

60

65

65

75

84

40

78

71

85

40

60

60

80

80

Percent Enrolling in College in ong>theong> Fall

Four-Year College Any College

100

100

Chapter 1 15


aid has not kept up. A recent U.S. Department of

Education report found that ong>theong> average percentage

of family income needed ong>toong> cover college costs after

grant aid has increased substantially; by 003–04 at

public colleges, families in ong>theong> lowest income quartile

still had an unmet need of almost half ong>theong>ir family

income, compared ong>toong> 10 percent for families in ong>theong>

highest income quartile. 8 There is a rich literature demonstrating

ong>theong> extent ong>toong> which ong>theong>se increases in costs

create barriers ong>toong> college enrollment and completion. 9

Research finds that levels of financial aid and college

costs are strongly associated with ong>theong> likelihood of

college enrollment, four-year college enrollment, and

college persistence.

In ong>theong> last several years, a spate of national reports

have focused on ong>theong>se first two explanations—low

qualifications and high costs—calling for investments

in high school reform in order ong>toong> increase students’

academic preparation and policies ong>toong> address ong>theong> rising

college costs. 10 Implicit in ong>theong>se policy approaches is

ong>theong> assumption that ong>theong> only barriers ong>toong> enrolling in

college that minority, low-income, and first-generation

college students face are academic qualifications and

financial resources. However, prior research finds that,

compared ong>toong> ong>theong>ir more advantaged peers, low-income

and first-generation college students do not have similar

access ong>toong> ong>theong> guidance, information, and support

needed ong>toong> effectively navigate ong>theong> college application

process. 11

This lack of information and support may be as

important a barrier ong>toong> enrolling in college as academic

qualifications and financial resources. Michael Kirst

and Andrea Venezia ( 004) found that few minority

students and ong>theong>ir families fully understand ong>theong>

requirements of college application and admission and

that many lack knowledge of ong>theong> financial aid system

and often overestimate ong>theong> actual costs of college

attendance. 1 In addition, research has consistently

found that first-generation college students often do

not have access ong>toong> adults who know ong>theong> necessary steps

ong>toong> get ready for college, particularly how ong>toong> search for

colleges and how ong>toong> manage college and financial aid

applications. 13 As a result, ong>theong>se students often fail ong>toong>

take ong>theong> steps necessary ong>toong> enroll in college and often

conduct quite limited college searches.

16 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

Research on college access and choice highlights ong>theong>

importance of ong>theong> norms for college, access ong>toong> college

information, and concrete guidance and support in

shaping aspirations, engagement in school, and college

access. 14 These are often termed social capital explanations.

While a focus on qualifications is a human capital

explanation and a focus on college costs is a financial

capital explanation, sociological research suggests that

differences in access ong>toong> social capital play an important

role in why low-income and first-generation college

students have difficulty translating aspirations inong>toong>

enrollment. 15 Thus, sociological research on college

choice suggests that low-income and first-generation

students may have difficulty translating aspirations inong>toong>

enrollment because ong>theong>y do not have access ong>toong> norms

for college, college information, and concrete guidance

and support (e.g., social capital) in ong>theong>ir families, communities,

and, most importantly, high schools.

How important is it for educaong>toong>rs and policymakers

both locally and nationally ong>toong> pay attention ong>toong> social

capital in this policy debate? This is ong>theong> central question

we struggle with in this report as we focus on

understanding how CPS students participate in ong>theong>

college search and application process and ong>theong> role

of high schools in shaping students’ college enrollment.

We know that qualifications are an important

barrier for CPS students and, in ong>theong> next section, we

summarize findings in this area from our first report.

Although financing college is a major barrier for CPS

students, who are overwhelmingly low-income, we

do not specifically analyze how college cost barriers

impact college enrollment patterns in this report. We

do, however, examine how a lack of social capital and

failure ong>toong> navigate ong>theong> financial aid process compound

ong>theong> cost barriers that low-income CPS students face.

Rising college costs, however, make it even more

important that students effectively participate in ong>theong>

college search and application process and effectively

apply for financial aid. While students report on CCSR

surveys that ong>theong>ir parents want ong>theong>m ong>toong> attend college,

many CPS students come from families and live in

communities where ong>theong>re is less access ong>toong> knowledge

about how ong>toong> manage ong>theong> complex American system

of college search and application. After summarizing

our findings on qualifications, we ong>theong>n provide this


important context on ong>theong> family background of CPS

students, and ong>theong>n review prior research findings on

what barriers first-generation college students may face

as ong>theong>y begin ong>toong> navigate ong>theong> sets of tasks necessary ong>toong>

apply ong>toong> and enroll in college.

Low Qualifications Are a Barrier ong>toong>

Four-Year College Access but Are

Not a Complete Explanation

Previous research has shown that racial/ethnic minority

and low-income students are much less likely ong>toong> leave

high school with ong>theong> qualifications (e.g., test scores,

grades, and coursework) that give ong>theong>m access ong>toong> college,

particularly four-year colleges, and are critical ong>toong>

How We Define College Access for CPS Graduates

Throughout this report, we look at students’ involvement

in ong>theong> college search and application process

by ong>theong>ir high school qualifications. We characterize

students by ong>theong> qualifications rubric we developed

in our first report that identifies ong>theong> type (four-year

versus two-year) and selectivity of college that students

would likely have access ong>toong> given ong>theong>ir course

performance (unweighted GPA in core classes),

ong>theong>ir ACT scores, and ong>theong>ir involvement in college

preparaong>toong>ry AP and IB coursework. Our first report

showed that many CPS graduates have very low

qualifications. Our analysis found that while poor

performance in high school is not a significant barrier

ong>toong> enrolling in college, it constrains students’ college

options considerably and limits ong>theong>ir likelihood of

success. Students’ grades emerge, moreover, as ong>theong>

most important predicong>toong>r of college enrollment and

success.

The rubric we developed for our first report

indicates ong>theong> minimum GPA and ACT scores that

CPS graduates would need for a high likelihood of

acceptance ong>toong> certain classifications of colleges (see

Table 1). i The ACT cuong>toong>ffs we use are generally lower

than ong>theong> definitions used in college ratings such as

college performance and persistence. 16 Our first report

highlighted this problem in Chicago. We analyzed CPS

students’ college attendance patterns and developed a

rubric ong>toong> characterize ong>theong> selectivity of colleges CPS

graduates would likely be accepted ong>toong>, given ong>theong>ir

high school performance (unweighted GPAs and ACT

scores) and advanced course-taking (see How We Define

College Access for CPS Graduates).

Open admission policies at two-year and some nonselective

colleges mean that all students who graduate

from CPS are eligible ong>toong> enroll in some type of college,

regardless of ong>theong>ir high school performance. However,

our last report found that low ACT scores and low

GPAs presented significant barriers ong>toong> enrollment in

four-year colleges, particularly more selective colleges.

Barron’s. ii Because all high school graduates have ong>theong>

option of attending a two-year college, we categorized

graduates with ACT scores and GPAs that fall even

below ong>theong> level necessary for likely admittance ong>toong> a

nonselective four-year college as being limited ong>toong> attending

two-year colleges.

In this report, we have also taken inong>toong> account ong>theong>

role of advanced coursework (i.e., enrollment in an

IB program or taking at least six honors courses and

two AP courses) in classifying ong>theong> type of colleges ong>toong>

which students have access. Students who have ACT

scores and GPAs that would have placed ong>theong>m at ong>theong>

higher end of our selective access category and who

ong>toong>ok advanced coursework are moved ong>toong> ong>theong> very

selective category. Because we use unweighted GPA

in our rubric and colleges use weighted GPA and

rigor of ong>theong> courses students take in ong>theong>ir admissions

decisions, we feel that this is a more accurate picture

of ong>theong> type of college ong>toong> which ong>theong>se students could

gain admittance. Under our rubric, students must

get a 3.0 unweighted GPA and a 4 on ong>theong> ACT

ong>toong> be classified as having access ong>toong> a very selective

four-year college. With ong>theong> consideration of coursework,

an additional 3 percent of 005 graduates are

Chapter 1 17


classified as having access ong>toong> a very selective college.

These are students who take at least two AP and six

honors courses or are enrolled in an IB program and

have at least a .0 GPA and a 4 on ong>theong> ACT, at least

a 3.0 GPA and a 1 on ong>theong> ACT, or at least a 3.5 GPA

and an 18 on ong>theong> ACT.

It is helpful ong>toong> think about how qualifications

would shape access ong>toong> public universities. In Illinois,

a student would have access ong>toong> ong>theong> majority of ong>theong>

four-year public universities around ong>theong> state if he

18-20

21-23

24+

or she was qualified ong>toong> attend a “somewhat selective

college.” These four-year public universities

would include University of Illinois at Chicago,

Chicago State, and Norong>theong>rn and Souong>theong>rn Illinois

Universities. Students who are qualified ong>toong> attend a

“very selective college” would have access ong>toong> ong>theong> best

public college in ong>theong> state: ong>theong> University of Illinois

at Urbana-Champaign. For ong>theong> national context, see

Appendix A.

Table 1. Categories For Access ong>toong> College Types Based on CPS Graduates’ GPAs and ACT Scores and Patterns of College Enrollment

Table 1

categories for access ong>toong> college types based on cps graduates’ gpas and act scores and patterns of college enrollment

Composite ACT Score

Missing

ACT


is a long way ong>toong> go. In 005, slightly more than half of

CPS students graduated with qualifications that would

give ong>theong>m access ong>toong> ong>theong> majority of four-year public

universities in Illinois (i.e., somewhat selective colleges),

and only about one in four ( 3 percent) graduated with

ACT scores and grades that would make it likely that

ong>theong>y be accepted ong>toong> a selective or very selective institution

(such as ong>theong> selective DePaul University or Loyola

University, or ong>theong> very selective University of Illinois

at Urbana-Champaign). Even with this progress, only

slightly more than one half of CPS students graduate

from high school with ong>theong> qualifications that would

give ong>theong>m access ong>toong> ong>theong> majority of four-year public

universities in Illinois.

Qualifications are particularly low among African-

American and Latino students; approximately one-half

of African-American and Latino seniors graduate with

such low qualifications that ong>theong>y only have access ong>toong>

two-year or nonselective four-year colleges (see Figure

5). In comparison, only 6 percent of White/Oong>theong>r

Ethnic 17 and 18 percent of Asian-American graduates

have qualifications that low. Furong>theong>rmore, about onequarter

of White/Oong>theong>r Ethnic and Asian-American

graduates have access ong>toong> very selective colleges, while

very few Latino and African-American graduates have

access ong>toong> ong>theong>se ong>toong>p colleges.

Although qualifications are clearly a significant barrier

ong>toong> college enrollment, qualifications alone did not

explain differences in college enrollment across CPS

high schools. Differences in qualifications were also

insufficient in explaining racial/ethnic differences in

college enrollment. One of ong>theong> most important findings

of our first report was that Latino students were much

less likely ong>toong> attend college, even when compared ong>toong>

peers in similar high schools with similar GPAs and

ACT scores. Finally, differences in qualifications did

not explain why CPS students who aspired ong>toong> attend

four-year colleges often enrolled in two-year and nonselective

colleges. In many high schools, ong>theong> number

of students who were qualified ong>toong> attend somewhat

selective, selective, or very selective college exceeded

ong>theong> number that actually attended college at all.

To more rigorously examine this issue, we conducted

a multivariate analysis of ong>theong> differences by race/ethnicity

among CPS graduates in ong>theong>ir likelihood of

Figure 4

Figure ong>theong> percentage 4. The percentage of cps of graduates CPS graduates who have who have access access ong>toong> ong>toong> selective

and selective very selective and very schools selective has increased colleges slightly has increased since 2003 slightly

since 2003

Two-Year

Only

Nonselective

Somewhat

Selective

Selective

Very

Selective

0

7

8

13

15

21

20

10

31

28

28

29

Percent of Graduates

Note: These numbers do not include students in special education or students attending

alternative or charter high schools.

20

30

40

2002 and 2003 Graduates 2005 Graduates

Figure 5

In Figure 2005, 5. about In 2005, half about of african-american half of African-American and Latino and Latino graduates graduates

only had access ong>toong> two-year or nonselective colleges

only had access ong>toong> two-year or nonselective colleges

All

White/

Oong>theong>r Ethnic

African-American

Asian-American

Latino

0

28

20 29 15 8

12 14 25 26 23

28

34

22 30 11 3

8 10 24 29

28

20

21 31 15 6

Percent of 2005 Graduates

Two-Year Only Nonselective Somewhat Selective Selective Very Selective

Note: These numbers do not include students in special education or students attending

alternative or charter high schools.

entering college in ong>theong> fall after graduation, controlling

for qualifications, family background, and immigrant

status. In Figure 6, ong>theong> light blue bar shows that

Latino graduates were 1 percentage points less likely

than African-American graduates ong>toong> enroll in college.

White/Oong>theong>r Ethnic graduates, on ong>theong> oong>theong>r hand,

were 13 percentage points more likely than African-

Americans ong>toong> enroll in college. After controlling for

qualifications, ong>theong> difference in college enrollment rates

between African-American students and White/Oong>theong>r

Ethnic students is eliminated. However, qualifications

40

60

80

50

100

Chapter 1 19


do not explain why Latino graduates are less likely ong>toong>

enroll in college than ong>theong>ir African-American counterparts.

Indeed, ong>theong> gap between Latino students

and African-American students increased from 1 ong>toong>

15 percentage points, after controlling for students’

varying qualifications.

Family background and immigrant status are

frequently cited as reasons why some students, particularly

Latino students, do not enroll in college. Indeed,

Figure 6 shows that students who are immigrants—

both those who came ong>toong> ong>theong> United States before

and after age 10—were less likely ong>toong> attend college.

Moong>theong>r’s education and socioeconomic status also

explain some of ong>theong> gap in college enrollment between

Latino and African-American students. However, our

analysis suggests that immigrant status, socioeconomic

status, and moong>theong>r’s education do not completely

explain why Latino graduates are less likely ong>toong> enroll

in college; a gap of 8 percentage points still remains

between Latino and African-American students.

In contrast ong>toong> ong>theong> gaps among students of different

racial/ethnic backgrounds, ong>theong> gap in college enroll-

Figure 6

Figure Differences 6. Differences in academic in academic qualifications qualifications do not do not explain explain differences

in differences college enrollment in college among enrollment racial/ethnic among groups racial/ethnic with similar college aspirations

groups with similar college aspirations

Percentage Point Difference in

Predicted Probability

30

20

10

0

-10

-20

-30

Probability of oong>theong>r racial/ethnic groups enrolling in a college

compared ong>toong> African-Americans:

-10 -8

-12

-15

No Controls

Latino

13

Controlling for Qualifications

(high school grades, test scores,

and curriculum)

0 4 4

White/Oong>theong>r Ethnic

Asian-American

Note: Results shown come from logistic regression models. Graduates included in ong>theong>

models were limited ong>toong> those who aspired ong>toong> complete at least a two-year degree as

reported on ong>theong> 2005 CCSR Senior Survey. Sample does not include students in special

education or students attending alternative high schools.

23

14

26

27

Controlling for Qualifications and

Background (socioeconomic status

and nativity/age of immigration)

Controlling for Qualifications,

Background, and Moong>theong>r’s Education

0 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

ment between male and female graduates can be

explained by ong>theong> relatively poor qualifications of male

graduates. In our last report, we found that 40 percent

of male graduates had qualifications that limited ong>theong>ir

access ong>toong> two-year colleges, whereas only one-quarter of

female graduates had qualifications that low. 18 Because

ong>theong> poor qualifications of male graduates explain ong>theong>

gender gap in college enrollment, we do not explicitly

explore ong>theong> role of gender in ong>theong> college search and

application process. While it appears that male and

female students have very different experiences in high

school, in our analyses for this report, we did not find

gender ong>toong> be a significant predicong>toong>r of how well students

navigate ong>theong> college enrollment process.

Increasing ong>theong> qualifications of CPS students is a

compelling solution ong>toong> ong>theong> aspirations-attainment gap.

However, a focus on qualifications alone assumes that

if low-income students had ong>theong> same level of qualifications

as ong>theong>ir more advantaged counterparts, ong>theong>y

would have equal access ong>toong> college. This is clearly not

true. Even if college costs were not an issue, many CPS

students, particularly Latino students, do not come

from families or communities where ong>theong>y have access ong>toong>

college-educated adults who can guide ong>theong>m in managing

ong>theong> college search and application process.

CPS Students Tend ong>toong> Come from Families

and Neighborhoods with Fewer Resources ong>toong>

Support ong>theong>ir College Aspirations

This report focuses specifically on how CPS students

participate in ong>theong> college search and application process.

All high school students need significant adult support

and guidance as ong>theong>y begin ong>toong> think about applying ong>toong>

college. This is a daunting task for parents, particularly

for those who do not have access ong>toong> knowledge about

how ong>toong> support ong>theong>ir children in managing ong>theong> complex

system of college search and application.

Parents without knowledge of ong>theong> U.S. education

system may be particularly disadvantaged in supporting

ong>theong>ir children in ong>theong> college search and application

process. As seen in Figure 7, one-third of Latino and

White/Oong>theong>r Ethnic seniors and almost 60 percent of

Asian-American seniors reported that ong>theong>y were born

outside of ong>theong> United States. Fully 80 percent of Latino


students, more than 95 percent of Asian-American

students, and more than 40 percent of White/Oong>theong>r

Ethnic students report that ong>theong>ir moong>theong>rs were born

outside of ong>theong> United States. Thus, a large proportion

of CPS students face ong>theong> challenges of navigating an

unfamiliar American college education system. These

challenges can be compounded when parents ong>theong>mselves

have low levels of education.

While high proportions of Latino, Asian-American,

and White/Oong>theong>r Ethnic students in CPS are immigrants

or have parents who are immigrants, Latino students are

particularly disadvantaged because so few of ong>theong>ir parents

have any college experience. Figure 8 presents seniors’

reports of ong>theong>ir moong>theong>r’s highest level of education. Fully

60 percent of Latino seniors state that ong>theong>ir moong>theong>r has no

schooling beyond high school, and 18 percent reported

that ong>theong>y did not know ong>theong>ir moong>theong>r’s level of education.

In comparison, only one-third of African-American

students, and fewer than 40 percent of Asian-American

and White/Oong>theong>r Ethnic students reported that ong>theong>ir

moong>theong>r had not attended any college.

Although senior survey reports of family background

may not be completely reliable, Census data

show similar racial/ethnic differences in CPS students’

neighborhoods. Figure 9 compares ong>theong> relative status

of students in CPS by ong>theong> average concentration of

poverty and education and occupational status of

adults in ong>theong>ir neighborhoods. 19 African-American

students are distinguished by ong>theong>ir relative economic

disadvantage. The average African-American senior lives

in a neighborhood with a much higher concentration

of poverty, a half standard deviation higher than ong>theong>

city average. However, even though African-American

students live in more impoverished neighborhoods,

on average, ong>theong> adults in ong>theong>ir neighborhood have

higher than average education and occupational

status, although ong>theong>se levels are significantly below

ong>theong>ir White/Oong>theong>r Ethnic and Asian-American

counterparts. Most importantly, Latino students are

ong>theong> least likely ong>toong> live in neighborhoods where ong>theong>y

have access ong>toong> adults with high levels of education

and who work in professional and managerial

occupations, even though ong>theong>ir neighborhoods have

lower levels of poverty than ong>theong> average African-

American student.

Figure 7

Figure 7.

About about one one-third third of of Latino Latino and and White/Oong>theong>r ethnic Ethnic graduates graduates and more

than and half more of than Asian-American half of asian-american graduates in CPS graduates were born in outside cps were ong>theong>

United born outside States ong>theong> United states

Student reports of wheong>theong>r ong>theong>y were born in ong>theong> United States and

age of immigration:

Immigrated

after Age 10

Immigrated

before Age 10

Born in ong>theong>

United States

Student reports of wheong>theong>r ong>theong>ir moong>theong>r was born in ong>theong> United States:

Moong>theong>r

Born in ong>theong>

United States

0

4

2

2

13

15

19

21

25

20

31

20

44

56

65

66

40

Percent of Graduates

White/Oong>theong>r Ethnic African-American

Asian-American Latino

Note: These numbers are based on student responses ong>toong> ong>theong> 2005 CCSR Senior Survey,

but do not include students in special education or students attending alternative high

schools. Some 6,977 graduates reported on ong>theong>ir own immigrant status and 6,889

graduates reported on ong>theong>ir moong>theong>rs’ immigrant status.

The neighborhood and family background characteristics

of CPS students suggest that many CPS

students will face significant barriers as ong>theong>y begin

ong>toong> think about searching and applying for college.

Many students in CPS will face significant financial

barriers, and many CPS students come from families

and neighborhoods where ong>theong>y will have less access ong>toong>

ong>theong> norms, guidance, and concrete support needed ong>toong>

effectively manage ong>theong> college search and application

process. Having limited community access ong>toong> adults

96

93

60

80

100

Chapter 1 1


Figure 8

Latino

Figure 8.

graduates report significantly lower levels of

Latino graduates report significantly lower levels of maternal education

maternal education

What is ong>theong> highest level of schooling your moong>theong>r/female guardian

has completed?

White/

Oong>theong>r Ethnic

African-American

Asian-American

Latino

0

8 10 27 11

45

10

18

11 22 13

43

16 15 25 6 38

Don’t Know < ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> Only

20

38 22 6 16

Percent of Graduates

Two-Year, Technical, or Vocational College Some Four-Year College or More

Note: These numbers are based on student responses ong>toong> ong>theong> 2005 CCSR Senior Survey, but

do not include students in special education or students attending alternative high schools.

On ong>theong> surveys 6,824 graduates reported on ong>theong>ir moong>theong>r’s highest level of education.

Figure 9

Figure 9.

african-american African-American graduates live live in much in poorer neighborhoods,

but Latino Latino graduates live live in neighborhoods in neighborhoods with much with fewer less

educated adults

More

Poverty

Standard Deviations

(1 SD = 29 Percentage Points)

Less

Poverty

1.5

1.0

0.5

0

-0.5

-1.0

-1.5

Concentration of Poverty

on Students’ Block

0.52

- 0.34

- 0.49

- 0.86

African-American

Asian-American

Note: “Concentration of Poverty” and “Average Education and Occupation Status of Adults

on Students’ Block” were based on 2000 U.S. Census information on ong>theong> block group in

which students lived. These variables are described in greater detail in Appendix D. These

data come from students who were not in special education or in alternative high schools.

13,732 graduates had Census information.

40

60

Average Education and

Occupation Status of

Adults on Students’ Block

0.18

- 0.52

Latino

0.59

0.44

White/Oong>theong>r Ethnic

80

1.5

1.0

100

0.5

City

0

Average

(50th

Percentile)

-0.5

-1.0

-1.5

More

Education

Less

Education

ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

with college-going experiences makes CPS students

especially dependent upon ong>theong>ir teachers, counselors,

and oong>theong>r nonfamilial adults in obtaining information

and support in making educational plans and navigating

ong>theong> process of college application. 0

Low Access ong>toong> Social Capital Poses a

Significant Barrier ong>toong> College Enrollment

We have shown that CPS students, like many urban

students, come from families and neighborhoods that

do not have a strong college-going hisong>toong>ry and thus

may lack access ong>toong> strong norms for college attendance

and concrete guidance and information needed ong>toong> effectively

navigate ong>theong> college search and application

process. Prior research on college access points ong>toong> two

ways in which ong>theong>se students’ family backgrounds, in

ong>theong> absence of strong supports in ong>theong>ir high schools,

may create barriers ong>toong> ong>theong>ir college enrollment: (1) students

not taking ong>theong> steps necessary for being accepted

ong>toong> a four-year college and for securing financial aid, and

( ) students not considering a wide range of colleges

and instead enrolling in traditional feeders.

First, research finds that urban students with high

aspirations often have difficulty taking ong>theong> concrete

steps needed ong>toong> effectively apply ong>toong> and enroll in fouryear

colleges. 1 Wheong>theong>r CPS students take ong>theong>se steps

is ong>theong> focus on our analysis in Chapter . For example,

Avery and Kane compared seniors with similar aspirations

who attended Bosong>toong>n Public ong>Schoolong>s ong>toong> seniors

attending suburban high schools in ong>theong> Bosong>toong>n area.

They found dramatic differences in ong>theong> extent ong>toong> which

students in ong>theong>se two samples had taken ong>theong> steps necessary

ong>toong> apply ong>toong> college. Among students who planned

ong>toong> attend a four-year college, only slightly more than

half of ong>theong> Bosong>toong>n sample, compared ong>toong> 91 percent of

ong>theong> suburban sample, had obtained an application from

ong>theong> college ong>theong>y were interested in attending. Only 18

percent of ong>theong> Bosong>toong>n sample versus 41 percent of ong>theong>

suburban sample had applied ong>toong> a four-year college by

ong>theong> fall of ong>theong>ir senior year.

Taking ong>theong> steps ong>toong> enroll in college requires that students

understand how ong>toong> complete college applications

as well as apply for financial aid. Research finds, however,

that students’ confusion about financial aid and


eal college costs are an additional barrier. 3 Furong>theong>r,

ong>theong>re is an increasing recognition that ong>theong> complexity

of ong>theong> federal student aid system, and particularly ong>theong>

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA),

poses an important barrier ong>toong> low-income students.

Many students lack knowledge of what financial aid

is available, what ong>theong>y are eligible for, and when and

how ong>toong> apply. Low-income students are more likely ong>toong>

state that financial aid is ong>toong>o complicated ong>toong> apply for,

believe that ong>theong> costs of college are ong>toong>o high for ong>theong>m

ong>toong> apply, and are less likely ong>toong> apply for financial aid

early in order ong>toong> maximize ong>theong>ir likelihood of receiving

state and institutional aid. 4

In summation, research on college access suggests

that CPS students may face barriers ong>toong> four-year college

enrollment because ong>theong>y may have difficulty managing

ong>theong> process of college application and financial aid and

miss important steps in ong>theong> process. But effectively

participating in ong>theong> college application process also

requires that students find colleges that best meet ong>theong>ir

needs. A second important strand of research suggests

that low-income and first-generation college students

also do not have access ong>toong> ong>theong> support ong>theong>y need ong>toong>

effectively identify what kinds of colleges ong>theong>y might

like ong>toong> attend, ong>theong> range of options that are available

ong>toong> ong>theong>m, and how much ong>theong>y will be expected ong>toong> pay

for college—costs net of financial aid. 5 Low-income

students are also vastly underrepresented at ong>toong>p-tier

colleges, including flagship state universities, and this

underrepresentation cannot solely be attributed ong>toong> differences

in college qualifications. 6 College costs may

be one facong>toong>r explaining why qualified low-income

students are less likely ong>toong> apply ong>toong> and enroll in ong>toong>p universities.

Research on talent loss, moreover, finds that

without access ong>toong> information and strong guidance,

many urban, low-income students rely on ong>theong>ir own

familial and friendship networks that often only have

limited college information. 7 This limitation results

in many urban students focusing ong>theong>ir entire college

search within ong>theong> enclave colleges of ong>theong> traditional

feeder patterns—largely public, two-year, or nonselective

and somewhat selective four-year colleges. 8 Thus,

many first-generation college students conduct what

we refer ong>toong> as “constrained college search,” which often

leads ong>toong> “mismatch,” enrollment in colleges that are

less selective than students are eligible ong>toong> attend. We

examine this mismatch pattern in Chapter 3.

Chapter 1 3


Chapter 1

ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College: Are

Students Taking ong>theong> Steps ong>toong> Apply ong>toong>

and Enroll in a Four-Year College?

As Moises and Grady on ong>theong> next page illustrate, preparing for college is a

long and complex process. Achieving ong>theong> high qualifications ong>theong>se

young men needed ong>toong> reach ong>theong>ir goals required setting high expectations for

ong>theong>mselves early on and staying on task throughout high school. Reaching

those aspirations required that ong>theong>y undersong>toong>od ong>theong> link between working

hard in school and gaining admission ong>toong> college. And, it also required ong>theong>ir

high school ong>toong> set high expectations and provide ong>theong>m with ong>theong> challenging

coursework ong>theong>y would need ong>toong> be prepared for college.

Just as important, however, was how ong>theong>se two young men organized

ong>theong>ir college search and application process during ong>theong>ir junior and senior

years. Within a short time span, ong>theong>y had ong>toong> make important decisions and

meet a series of benchmarks for ong>theong> college search and application process. 9

As Moises and Grady did so effectively, starting in junior year or even earlier,

students must identify a list of colleges in which ong>theong>y might be interested. The

summer after junior year should be a time of discovery and search. By fall

of senior year, students should have gaong>theong>red enough information ong>toong> narrow

ong>theong>ir list of colleges ong>toong> those where ong>theong>y intend ong>toong> apply. In ong>theong> fall of senior

year, students should start working on college applications ong>toong> have sufficient

time ong>toong> meet winter deadlines. By winter of ong>theong>ir senior year, students who are

effectively managing ong>theong> college application process should have completed

ong>theong>ir applications and started working on ong>theong>ir financial aid forms.

2

consortium on chicago school research at ong>theong> university of chicago 5


Moises and Grady–A Case Study

A supported and well-executed path ong>toong> college

Securing admission ong>toong> ong>theong> right college and figuring out how ong>toong> pay for it is a daunting and time-consuming

process for even ong>theong> most committed students, but ong>theong> right road map and consistent support can make ong>theong>

difference between success and failure.

Two remarkable young men, Moises and Grady, 1

ong>toong>ok this challenge on ong>toong>geong>theong>r, and ong>theong>ir song>toong>ries

illustrate just how much effort is required for students

ong>toong> translate high aspirations inong>toong> college attainment.

They also illustrate that, in addition ong>toong> academic qualifications

and personal determination, students need

strong parental support combined with structured support

from high schools ong>toong> undertake an extensive and

effective college search. These best friends, ong>theong> pitcher

and ong>theong> catcher on ong>theong>ir varsity baseball team, were two

of only five students in our longitudinal study of 105

students who left high school qualified ong>toong> attend a very

selective college, conducted a thorough college search,

and ong>theong>n enrolled in ong>theong> college of ong>theong>ir choice.

While ong>theong>se two young men were best friends, ong>theong>y

were opposites in many ways. Moises, a first-generation

Mexican-Puerong>toong> Rican, is easy-going with a confident

smile that lights up a room. Grady is a driven and reserved

African-American teen from a supportive family

who rarely smiles and speaks with ong>theong> precision of a

network news anchor. Moises, despite his academic

performance, says he is “guilty of perhaps slacking off a

little more than I should.”

Grady, on ong>theong> oong>theong>r hand, was so intensely focused

that his friends worried about ong>theong> pressure he put on

himself ong>toong> succeed. Both young men shared a commitment

ong>toong> education and had dreamed of going ong>toong>

college for as long as ong>theong>y could remember. While

neiong>theong>r student had parents who graduated from

college, ong>theong>ir families expected ong>theong>ir sons ong>toong> attend

college. Both students also had parents who worked

in professional settings and knew how ong>toong> work ong>theong>ir

social networks for important information about college,

and Grady had two broong>theong>rs who had gone on ong>toong>

four-year colleges.

6 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

Their drive ong>toong> attend college started with ong>theong> decisions

ong>theong>y made early in high school. They chose ong>toong>

attend Kahlo ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> (see What a Strong College

Culture Looks Like, p.6 ), a high school with a record

of sending graduates ong>toong> good colleges, and applied ong>toong>

ong>theong> rigorous International Baccalaureate (IB) program.

Both students graduated in ong>theong> ong>toong>p 10 percent of ong>theong>ir

class. Moises achieved a 4.6 weighted GPA and a 5 on

ong>theong> ACT; Grady achieved a 4.0 weighted GPA and a

7 on ong>theong> ACT. This hard work made ong>theong>m eligible ong>toong>

attend a very selective university. It also distinguished

ong>theong>m nationally from oong>theong>r ong>toong>p students. They both

knew ong>theong>ir hard work made ong>theong>m attractive college

applicants. 3 As Moises explains:

“I know I can get inong>toong> 95% of ong>theong> colleges that I want

ong>toong> go ong>toong>. But I want a full ride, or at least partial.”

For Moises and Grady, ong>theong> push for high qualifications

was not only ong>toong> get inong>toong> good colleges, but ong>toong>

make sure that ong>theong>y could afford it. Grady said he

wanted ong>toong> attend a

“really good school, because ong>theong>y have a lot of

money ong>toong> offer, because ong>theong>y have so many alumni

that are making a lot of money.”

Junior Year: Beginning ong>theong>ir College search

Like oong>theong>r successful students, Moises and Grady started

making a college list in ong>theong>ir junior year. They decided

that ong>theong>y wanted ong>toong> attend a first-rate college ong>toong>geong>theong>r

where ong>theong>y could play baseball. They picked Stanford

and Rice as ong>theong>ir ong>toong>p choices, selected after watching

ong>theong> College World Series. They were impressed by ong>theong>

baseball teams and researched ong>theong> schools’ academic


eputations. Not surprisingly, each student’s college

list expanded considerably when ong>theong>y began receiving

information from colleges attracted by ong>theong>ir high

ACT scores. Moises was contacted by recruiters at

Dartmouth and invited for a free summer visit. Grady

also started exploring ong>theong> University of Michigan because

he and his faong>theong>r were fans of ong>theong> football team.

summer Junior Year: Campus Visits

During ong>theong> summer after junior year, successful students

such as Moises and Grady start ong>toong> hone ong>theong>ir

college preferences by visiting campuses. At ong>theong> end

of junior year, both young men hoped ong>toong> take college

trips ong>toong> California and Texas. Neiong>theong>r student was

able ong>toong> visit any schools in California, but Moises

and his family did visit Louisiana and Texas, taking a

summer trip that included visits ong>toong> Tulane, Rice and

ong>theong> University of Texas. Moises fell in love with Rice,

because ong>theong> ong>toong>ur made him feel at home. By contrast,

he felt intimated by large campuses and found ong>theong>

University of Texas ong>toong>o chaotic. Grady wasn’t able ong>toong>

go on any college ong>toong>urs over ong>theong> summer, and instead

he spent his time contacting college representatives. By

ong>theong> end of ong>theong> summer, Stanford and Rice were still

at ong>theong> ong>toong>p of Grady’s list. He also was seriously considering

ong>theong> University of Michigan, ong>theong> University of

California-Berkeley, ong>theong> University of Texas, and ong>theong>

University of Illinois.

senior Year: Applications, prioritizing Colleges, and

Financial Aid

Senior year is ong>theong> time ong>toong> kick ong>theong> college search inong>toong>

high gear, so Moises and Grady started zeroing in on

favorite choices and began working on ong>theong>ir applications.

For both young men, senior year was ong>theong> time ong>toong>

sort out what ong>theong>y really wanted out of college. Moises

wanted ong>theong> best of both worlds: a great academic program

and a ong>toong>p-ranked Division I baseball team. In

ong>theong> fall, Moises applied early ong>toong> Rice. Recruiters from

a few smaller colleges called offering him admission

and special scholarships.

Grady decided early in his senior year he did

not want ong>toong> pursue baseball in college, and instead

concentrated on schools with ong>toong>p-notch business programs.

Grady’s list—which he divided inong>toong> sure-thing

schools, good-match schools, and reach schools—

included four California and two Texas schools.

Both young men relied on at least one adult at ong>theong>ir

school for one-on-one support as ong>theong>y made ong>theong>se critical

decisions. Grady discussed his college list with ong>theong>

school counselor, whose office he visited every day during

lunch so that he could get some work done in quiet.

Moises looked ong>toong> his baseball coach for guidance:

“My coach is probably ong>theong> biggest person who has

made college an important part of my life.... he is

trying ong>toong> give [ong>theong> baseball team access ong>toong>] many

programs ong>toong> get us noticed by colleges.”

Grady and Moises made college applications ong>theong>ir

highest priority, but it was a daunting task. They

worked on applications during lunch and sometimes

class. They wrote different essays for each application.

They provided recommendations even when ong>theong>y were

not requested. Moises proofread all of his recommendations,

and when dissatisfied with ong>theong> grammar of a

math teacher’s recommendation, promptly corrected ong>theong>

mistakes and returned it ong>toong> her so that edits could be

made before ong>theong> recommendation reached his colleges.

(See Moises and Grady’s Road ong>toong> College, p. 30.)

By February 1, Moises had mailed off applications ong>toong>

ten colleges nationwide. By this time, Grady had completed

six applications, and ong>theong> University of Michigan

was his ong>toong>p choice. When asked why, Grady said

Michigan offered one of ong>theong> strongest business schools

in ong>theong> nation and a loyal, committed alumni base, which

he saw as particularly important for his future:

“If I have ong>toong> take out loans or whatever, I’ll pay it

back. Because if I go ong>toong> a good school like University

of Michigan, it’ll get me inong>toong> doors where I can make

money coming out of college.”

Kahlo ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> emphasized ong>theong> necessary steps

needed ong>toong> finance college. While working on ong>theong>ir

applications, Moises and Grady also made sure ong>theong>y

completed ong>theong>ir FAFSA, scholarship, and institutional

aid applications. They undersong>toong>od that a key step in ong>theong>

college application process is financial aid, and ong>theong>ir

high school emphasized this part of ong>theong> process.

Chapter 7


Finishing senior Year: Making ong>theong>ir Final Decisions

When Grady and Moises received ong>theong>ir spring acceptance

letters, ong>theong>re was mixed news about ong>theong>ir ong>toong>pchoice

schools. Grady was admitted ong>toong> ong>theong> University

of Michigan, but Moises did not get inong>toong> Rice. Grady

was not accepted ong>toong> Stanford or Rice, but with those

few exceptions, both young men were accepted

everywhere else ong>theong>y applied.

While Grady was committed ong>toong> Michigan, ong>theong>

$40,000 price tag was a deterrent. 4 He and his parents

had visited ong>theong> campus, and everyone was excited for

Grady ong>toong> attend. He received federal financial aid but

no oong>theong>r institutional aid. In ong>theong> end, Grady and his

parents decided that ong>theong> significant burden of loans

was a worthwhile trade-off for attending one of ong>theong>

best business schools in ong>theong> country. Grady estimated

he would be in debt at least $60,000 upon graduation

from college, but he believes ong>theong> university will offer

him ong>theong> ong>toong>ols and resources he needs ong>toong> pay this debt

in ong>theong> future.

Moises had a difficult decision ong>toong> make, weighing

his options among colleges and ong>theong> financial aid

packages ong>theong>y offered. He was offered a full ride ong>toong>

Truman State University in Missouri. He visited ong>theong>

University of Illinois and ong>theong> University of Michigan

but decided that both campuses were ong>toong>o large. His

visit ong>toong> a small, in-state liberal arts school was definitive.

5 He immediately felt at home and got personal

attention from ong>theong> baseball and soccer coaches and

ong>theong> admissions staff. After a day visiting ong>theong> campus,

Moises felt completely comfortable, easily finding

classes he wanted ong>toong> visit and giving directions ong>toong> oong>theong>r

prospective students:

“…ong>theong>re were two students from [a different CPS]

high school and ong>theong>y were like, ‘Do you know where

ong>theong> admissions office is?’ and I was like ‘Actually I’m

just a prospective student ong>toong>uring but…yeah I do.’

So I’m already getting ong>theong> hang of it.”

Moises decided ong>toong> attend this school despite not

receiving as much financial aid as he hoped:

8 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

“They are giving me $40,000 all four years, but it’s

still going ong>toong> cost me about $20,000 a year, so I am

trying ong>toong> get it down ong>toong> at least $15,000. Truman was

giving me ong>theong> most, like $12,000 a year. Michigan is

giving me $20,000 over four years…but that was

pretty good because U of I only gave me $4,000 for

four years.”

success with a Caveat: Thriving at College but

stretched Financially

Moises and Grady ultimately ended up achieving what

would be for many CPS students an unattainable goal:

ong>theong>y finished high school highly qualified for college

and ong>theong>y enrolled in good colleges, an alarmingly rare

outcome in CPS, especially among minority males.

Their ACT scores placed ong>theong>m in ong>theong> ong>toong>p 10 percent

of national test-takers and ong>theong>y graduated at ong>theong> ong>toong>p

of ong>theong>ir class. They had ong>theong> family and school support

needed ong>toong> apply ong>toong> a wide range of colleges and

ultimately ended up in colleges that matched ong>theong>ir

qualifications and offered ong>theong>m ong>theong> college experiences

ong>theong>y desired. At ong>theong> same time, ong>theong>ir college decisions

would stretch ong>theong>m and ong>theong>ir families financially.

Despite having ong>theong> qualifications and characteristics

that should have made ong>theong>m among ong>theong> most highly recruited

students in ong>theong> nation, neiong>theong>r received a strong

aid package from ong>theong>ir ong>toong>p-choice colleges. However,

because Moises and Grady and ong>theong>ir families placed

a high value on education, ong>theong>y were willing ong>toong> make

ong>theong> sacrifices needed ong>toong> pay for college. Ultimately,

ong>theong>y both wanted ong>toong> take full advantage of ong>theong> doors

opened by ong>theong>ir hard work and academic qualifications,

and attain ong>theong>ir aspirations of receiving a degree from

an elite college. Both young men made a successful

transition ong>toong> college; ong>theong>y enrolled in ong>theong> schools ong>theong>y

had planned ong>toong> attend, moved inong>toong> dorms, found clubs

and extracurricular activities that suited ong>theong>m, made

new friends, and delved wholeheartedly inong>toong> ong>theong>ir new

academic careers with ong>theong> same ambition and eagerness

that made ong>theong>m each such a success.

Endnotes for this case study can be found on page 65.


The complexity of that process will differ depending

on ong>theong> type of college. Students who apply ong>toong> public

or nonselective four-year colleges may simply have ong>toong>

fill out a form, send ong>theong>ir transcripts, and pay a fee.

For some colleges, ong>theong> process has been simplified by

ong>theong> “common application,” a single standardized form

accepted by more than 300 institutions. 30 ong>Highong>ly

qualified students who apply ong>toong> ong>toong>p colleges, such as

Moises and Grady, are required ong>toong> complete complex,

time-consuming applications that include essays on

widely differing ong>toong>pics (see Moises and Grady’s Road

ong>toong> College, p. 30). In addition, students who apply ong>toong>

special programs and for scholarships may also have ong>toong>

fill out additional applications in ong>theong> fall.

Filing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid

(FAFSA) is a daunting task for many students. The

final deadline for filing a FAFSA is not until June

30, 31 but this deadline is misleading. Most colleges

have financial aid deadlines months before ong>theong> FAFSA

deadline, some as early as February 1, and some have

earlier priority financial aid deadlines. 3 Most importantly,

independent of institutional deadlines, students

who apply for financial aid early are much more likely

ong>toong> access federal, state, and institutional financial aid

than students who apply late. 33 This means that parents,

in order ong>toong> complete ong>theong> FAFSA, must eiong>theong>r have

a copy of ong>theong> previous year’s tax returns or file new tax

returns well in advance of ong>theong> tax deadline of April 15.

It also means that students must file ong>theong>ir FAFSA as

early as possible, as Moises and Grady did, if ong>theong>y are

ong>toong> be able ong>toong> make ong>theong>ir college choice while balancing

ong>theong> questions of which colleges best fit ong>theong>ir needs and

which colleges ong>theong>y can afford.

In spring, students who have effectively participated

in ong>theong> college application process should be making

ong>theong>ir final college choices. In ong>theong> traditional process,

students receive admission letters from most colleges

by April and receive financial aid award letters by

that time or shortly ong>theong>reafter. In late spring, students

should weigh ong>theong>ir financial aid packages from various

colleges, make final visits, have discussions ong>toong> determine

ong>theong> best fit, and make a final decision with ong>theong>ir

families.

As we noted in Chapter 1, oong>theong>r research has found

that many urban students, unlike Moises and Grady,

do not understand what steps ong>theong>y need ong>toong> take ong>toong>

effectively search for colleges, navigate ong>theong> application

process, and manage financial aid applications. 34

Jennie and Maribel, two students from different high

schools, present contrasting cases that are, unfortunately,

a far more common experience. Despite being

successful and committed students, ong>theong>se two found

ong>theong> process confusing and overwhelming and ong>theong>

costs of college daunting. In this chapter, we examine

ong>theong> question: Why do so many seniors who aspire ong>toong>

complete a four-year college degree, such as Jennie and

Maribel, get lost on ong>theong> road ong>toong> a four-year college?

Why would a student who loves learning and who aspires ong>toong> complete a college degree decide not ong>toong>

attend college at all? Maribel illustrates many of ong>theong> ong>theong>mes we observed in our interviews with students

in our longitudinal study who decided not ong>toong> attend college. See Maribel’s case study, p. 54.

Why do some students take ong>theong>mselves out of ong>theong> four-year college planning process? Does this only happen

ong>toong> students with low grades and test scores? Jennie, a student with strong qualifications for college, shows

some common features of college aspirants who made an early decision ong>toong> attend a two-year college.

See Jennie’s case study, p. 56.

Chapter 9


Moises and Grady’s Road ong>toong> College: What It Really Takes ong>toong> Apply ong>toong> Top Colleges

In ong>theong>ir college search, Moises and Grady created an

impressive list of colleges. Ultimately, Grady applied

ong>toong> six schools and Moises applied ong>toong> ten. What did

it take ong>toong> complete ong>theong>se applications? Colleges are

increasingly using ong>theong> Common Application, which

is designed ong>toong> streamline ong>theong> application process. The

Common Application collects personal data, academic

hisong>toong>ry, academic honors, extracurricular and

volunteer activities, and work experience. Students

provide a short answer that describes in 150 words

one of your activities.” And, students complete a 50

word personal essay. Students can eiong>theong>r choose ong>theong>ir

own ong>toong>pic or choose from ong>toong>pics provided, such as:

“Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk

you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced

and its impact on you.”

In addition ong>toong> ong>theong> Common Application, many

schools require a supplemental form. When applying

ong>toong> Rice, for example, a student must fill out

a Common Application supplement that asks additional

background questions; questions on AP,

honors, and IB coursework; and questions on summer

activities. Rice also requires three additional

essays. Wheong>theong>r using ong>theong> college’s own application

or ong>theong> Common Application and its supplements,

students were typically asked ong>toong> respond ong>toong> two or

three writing prompts, some short and some long.

Therefore, even if applying mostly ong>toong> schools that

use ong>theong> Common Application, students applying

ong>toong> as many schools as Moises and Grady did must

complete many essays. Though students can count

on at least some overlap, we estimate that, at a bare

minimum, Moises wrote at least seven completely

distinct, long essays, as well as eight additional short

responses; Grady said he wrote at least ten essays.

In ong>theong> end, Grady filled out ong>theong> Common

Application, four supplements, and two additional

applications for those colleges that did not accept

ong>theong> Common Application, including Stanford’s tenpage

application with an additional 14 pages that

30 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

must be submitted ong>toong> teachers and counselors for

recommendations and school reports. Moises filled

out ong>theong> Common Application, two supplements,

and six additional applications ong>toong> colleges that did

not accept ong>theong> Common Application, including

ong>theong> “Uncommon Application” at ong>theong> University of

Chicago.

Even schools that accept ong>theong> Common Application

may require quite extensive essays. The University

of Chicago’s is noteworthy. When applying ong>toong> ong>theong>

University of Chicago, Moises first responded ong>toong> two

fairly predictable short essays:

Question 1: How does ong>theong> University of Chicago, as you

know it now, satisfy your desire for a particular kind of

learning, community, and future? Please address with

some specificity your own wishes and how ong>theong>y relate

ong>toong> Chicago.

Question 2: Would you please tell us about a few of your

favorite books, poems, authors, films, plays, pieces of music,

musicians, performers, paintings, artists, magazine,

or newspapers? Feel free ong>toong> ong>toong>uch on one, some, or all of

ong>theong> categories listed, or add a category of your own.

For ong>theong> third essay, Moises had ong>toong> respond ong>toong> one

of five questions, many suggested by students who

had been admitted ong>theong> prior year. Two examples follow

of ong>theong> optional essay questions that Moises faced

ong>theong> year he applied:

Final Essay Option: Superstring ong>theong>ory has revolutionized

speculation about ong>theong> physical world by suggesting

that strings play a pivotal role in ong>theong> universe. Strings,

however, always have explained or enriched our lives,

from Theseus’s escape route from ong>theong> Labyrinth, ong>toong> kittens

playing with balls of yarn, ong>toong> ong>theong> single hair that held ong>theong>

sword above Damocles, ong>toong> ong>theong> basic awfulness of string

cheese, ong>toong> ong>theong> Old Norse tradition that one’s life is a thread

woven inong>toong> a tapestry of fate, ong>toong> ong>theong> beautiful sounds of


ong>theong> finely tuned string of a violin, ong>toong> ong>theong> children’s game

of cat’s cradle, ong>toong> ong>theong> concept of stringing someone along.

Use ong>theong> power of string ong>toong> explain ong>theong> biggest or ong>theong>

smallest phenomenon.

Final Essay Option:

means “mind that does not stick.”

Zen Master Shoitsu (1202–80)

It is not surprising that many middle- and upper-

income parents now pay college tuong>toong>rs and writing

coaches ong>toong> help ong>theong>ir children with ong>theong> college

application process, including writing ong>theong>se essays.

Some programs like College Summit focus specifically

on helping students craft ong>theong>ir application

essays. iii Moises and Grady didn’t get such help. Their

task was particularly onerous because ong>theong>y were also

involved in ong>theong> rigorous IB program, where ong>theong>y faced

many course and program deadlines throughout ong>theong>

fall. While Moises and Grady’s efforts were impressive,

so ong>toong>o were those of ong>theong>ir teachers, who had ong>toong> fill

out individual forms for each recommendation ong>theong>y

wrote. Moises and Grady had ong>toong> get a minimum of

two recommendations for each college application.

Chapter 31


Do CPS Students Take ong>theong> Steps

Necessary ong>toong> Enroll?

To examine this question, we draw on ong>theong> CPS postsecondary

tracking system and CCSR senior surveys

ong>toong> follow students as ong>theong>y progress through ong>theong> college

search and application process (see Figure 10). In April

of ong>theong>ir senior year, CCSR administered surveys that

asked students about ong>theong>ir educational aspirations and

wheong>theong>r ong>theong>y planned ong>toong> attend a two-year or four-year

college in ong>theong> fall. Near ong>theong> end of ong>theong> school year,

students completed CPS’s Senior Exit Questionnaire

that asked ong>theong>m wheong>theong>r ong>theong>y had applied ong>toong> a four-year

college and been accepted. In addition ong>toong> ong>theong>se survey

data, we examine college enrollment data from NSC

ong>toong> determine wheong>theong>r students ultimately enrolled in

college and, if so, what types of colleges.

Because we combine datasets and limit our analysis

ong>toong> students for whom we could follow ong>theong>ir steps on ong>theong>

road ong>toong> college through ong>theong>se data, our sample is much

smaller than ong>theong> CPS’s graduating class of 005. 35

We also limit our analysis ong>toong> students who aspired ong>toong>

attain at least a four-year degree. Our resulting sample,

which we call our ong>Potholesong> Sample, is significantly more

qualified than ong>theong> broader population of CPS graduates

Figure 10. Tracking CPS Graduates’ Steps Towards College Enrollment

Figure 10

tracking cps graduates’ steps ong>toong>wards college enrollment

Suggested Timeline:

Aspired ong>toong>

Complete a Four-Year

or Graduate Degree

Data Sources:

Note: See Appendix B for more information on ong>theong>se data sources.

(see Appendix B for details about ong>theong> samples and data

used in this report). Because our sample is higher performing,

on average, than ong>theong> larger graduating cohort,

we expect we are overestimating ong>theong> proportion of CPS

students who meet specific benchmarks of participation

in ong>theong> college planning and application process.

Figure 11 shows ong>theong> percentage of CPS graduates

who aspired ong>toong> complete a four-year degree that ong>toong>ok

specific steps ong>toong> enroll in a four-year college by ong>theong> next

fall (see Why We Focus on Four-Year Colleges Raong>theong>r

Than Two-Year Colleges, p. 34). Each teal bubble represents

a critical benchmark in this process. Specifically,

ong>theong> teal bubbles show ong>theong> percentage of this group who:

(1) planned ong>toong> attend a four-year college immediately

after high school, ( ) applied ong>toong> a four-year college, (3)

were accepted at a four-year college, and (4) enrolled

in a four-year college. Students are only included in a

bubble if ong>theong>y reached ong>theong> previous benchmark.

As seen in Figure 11, of ong>theong> CPS graduates who aspired

ong>toong> complete a four-year degree, only 41 percent

met each of ong>theong>se benchmarks and enrolled in a fouryear

college ong>theong> following fall. An additional 9 percent

of students managed ong>toong> enroll in a four-year college

without following all of ong>theong>se steps for a ong>toong>tal of 50

By ong>theong> End of Junior Year Winter of Senior Year Spring of Senior Year Fall After Graduation

Planned ong>toong> Continue

Education in ong>theong> Fall at

a Four-Year College

CCSR Senior Survey

(April 2005)

Applied ong>toong> a

Four-Year College

3 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

Completed FAFSA

January 1 ong>toong> Early Spring

CPS Senior

Exit Questionnaire

(June 2005)

Accepted inong>toong> a

Four-Year College

Enrolled in a

Four-Year College

National Student

Clearinghouse Data

(By November 1, 2005)


percent of all CPS students who aspired ong>toong> a four-year

degree. Almost half of ong>theong>se additional students ended

up enrolling in nonselective four-year schools.

CPS students fail ong>toong> enroll in four-year colleges by

missing important benchmarks. We might expect,

given CPS students’ poor qualifications, that ong>theong> biggest

barrier ong>toong> enrolling in a four-year college would be

getting accepted. But our analysis reveals a much more

complicated picture. First, fewer than three-quarters

(7 percent) of students who aspired ong>toong> attain a fouryear

degree stated in April of ong>theong>ir senior year that ong>theong>y

planned ong>toong> attend a four-year college in ong>theong> fall. Some

students, like Maribel, simply decided ong>toong> delay ong>theong>ir

enrollment. A larger group, like Jennie, decided ong>toong> go

ong>toong> college but ong>toong> start at a two-year college. Anoong>theong>r

Figure 11

Only Figure 41 11. percent Only 41 of percent cps graduates of CPS graduates who aspired who aspired ong>toong> complete ong>toong> complete a four-year a four-year degree degree ong>toong>ok ong>toong>ok ong>theong>se steps and enrolled in in a four-year a four-year college

college in ong>theong> fall in after ong>theong> graduation. fall after graduation—an An additional 9 percent additional enrolled 9 percent in college enrolled without in taking college ong>theong>se without steps. taking ong>theong>se steps

Tracking students through ong>theong> steps ong>toong> college enrollment:

Voc/

Tech

2 4 14 8

Don’t

Know

100

Two-Year Oong>theong>r Plans

Aspired ong>toong> Complete a Four-Year

or Graduate Degree

Note: These figures are based on ong>theong> ong>Potholesong> Sample (see Appendix B for details).

72

13

Did Not Apply

significant percentage planned ong>toong> attend a four-year

college in ong>theong> fall but still had not applied ong>toong> one by

June. Acceptance is less of a barrier than might be

expected; only 8 percent of students who planned ong>toong>

enroll applied ong>toong> a four-year college and were not accepted.

Raong>theong>r, a larger issue is that many CPS students

never face a college acceptance decision because ong>theong>y

do not apply ong>toong> four-year colleges. In ong>theong> end, only 59

percent of CPS graduates who stated that ong>theong>y aspired

ong>toong> attain a four-year degree and planned ong>toong> attend a

four-year college ever applied ong>toong> one.

To summarize, many CPS students make an early

decision ong>toong> attend a two-year college raong>theong>r than a

four-year college. Even among those who plan ong>toong> attend

a four-year college, many do not make it through

Planned ong>toong> Attend a Four-Year

College in ong>theong> Fall

59

8

Not Accepted

Applied ong>toong> a Four-Year College

51

10

Not Enrolled

Accepted Inong>toong> a

Four-Year College

41

Enrolled in a

Four-Year College

Chapter 33


Why We Focus on Four-Year Colleges Raong>theong>r Than Two-Year Colleges

In this report, we focus exclusively on CPS students

who aspire ong>toong> attain a bachelor’s degree or

higher. We do not examine students who aspire ong>toong>

attain a two-year degree because ong>theong> small number

of students (9 percent) limits our ability ong>toong> do a

thorough analysis of ong>theong>ir pathway ong>toong> college. As

discussed in ong>theong> introduction, aspiring ong>toong> complete

a four-year degree has become ong>theong> norm among

high school students nationwide. In addition, of ong>theong>

students who aspire ong>toong> attain a four-year degree, we

only include students who are qualified ong>toong> attend a

four-year college (having at least an 18 on ong>theong> ACT

or a .0 unweighted GPA) in our analysis. It may

be more appropriate for students with marginal

qualifications ong>toong> begin ong>theong>ir postsecondary education

at a two-year college, and we do not include ong>theong>m in

our analysis for this reason.

We also make a clear distinction between enrolling

in a four-year versus a two-year college or vocational

or technical school, and we do not treat ong>theong>se as

equivalent postsecondary outcomes. Students usually

enroll in a vocational or technical school with ong>theong> intention

of completing a program and beginning ong>theong>ir

career in that field. Clearly, ong>theong>re are many rewarding

career paths that start from vocational and technical

schools; however, this is not ong>theong> focus of this report.

In addition, very few of ong>theong>se schools participate

in ong>theong> NSC, and we are ong>theong>refore unable ong>toong> track

students’ enrollment inong>toong> most of ong>theong>se institutions

or evaluate wheong>theong>r enrolling in one of ong>theong>se schools

gives a student a high probability of achieving ong>theong>ir

postsecondary goals. Because of ong>theong>se small numbers,

we include students in vocational/technical schools

in ong>theong> two-year category in our analyses.

We also do not combine students who began

in two-year colleges with students who began in

four-year colleges, even though ong>theong>se students may

intend ong>toong> transfer and eventually complete a four-year

degree. Our analysis of our qualitative data indicates

that enrolling in a two-year college is often something

34 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

students fall back on when ong>theong>y encounter obstacles

in ong>theong> college search and application process, raong>theong>r

than a clearly defined plan.

Transferring from a two-year ong>toong> a four-year college

is not a simple process. It requires careful planning

ong>toong> accrue ong>theong> right number of transferable credits;

complete any remedial, noncredit-bearing courses;

and go through ong>theong> college search and application

process again. Furong>theong>rmore, research indicates that

this road ong>toong> a four-year degree has a low probability

of success. National studies have found that only

about 10 percent of students who initially enroll in

two-year colleges complete a bachelor’s degree within

six years. Even among students who hope ong>toong> attain a

four-year degree, ong>theong> probability of reaching that goal

is nearly three times higher if ong>theong>y initially enroll in

a four-year college. iv The preliminary evidence for

CPS graduates successfully using two-year colleges

as a stepping-song>toong>ne ong>toong> four-year colleges is weak; of

004 graduates who started in a two-year college,

only 57 percent were still enrolled in any college

as of fall 005, compared ong>toong> 81 percent of students

who started in a four-year college. v

We recognize that two-year colleges play an

important role in postsecondary education. In

00 , two-year colleges enrolled 40 percent of

undergraduate students in ong>theong> United States, and

that percentage is even higher among minority

students. vi Two-year colleges also provide college

access ong>toong> all students, regardless of ong>theong>ir qualifications.

Beginning at a two-year college and transferring

ong>toong> a four-year college is often seen as a viable option,

particularly for low-income students who are likely

ong>toong> have difficulty paying high tuition. However,

because this report seeks ong>toong> understand how ong>toong> provide

students with ong>theong> best roadmap ong>toong> a four-year

degree and research has shown that few students

make ong>theong> transition from two-year ong>toong> four-year colleges,

we do not regard starting in a two-year college

as equivalent ong>toong> starting in a four-year college.


ong>theong> application process. Does this mean that students

correctly judge ong>theong>ir qualifications and decide that

ong>theong>y do not have ong>theong> content knowledge and skills ong>toong>

attend a four-year college? Or are ong>theong>re oong>theong>r reasons

students do not enroll in a four-year college? Figure

1 tracks students through ong>theong> application process

by ong>theong>ir levels of qualifications upon graduation. We

characterized qualifications using our rubric (see How

We Define College Access for CPS Graduates, p. 17) of

ong>theong> type of colleges CPS students would likely be able

ong>toong> attend, given ong>theong>ir ACT scores, GPAs, and enrollment

in advanced coursework.

Students who graduated with low GPAs and ACT

scores, and thus have access ong>toong> only two-year or nonselective

colleges, were unlikely ong>toong> plan, apply, or be

accepted ong>toong> four-year colleges. However, it is not just

Figure 12

Figure 12. Only 61 Percent of Students Qualified ong>toong> Attend ong>theong> Majority of Illinois Public Universities Applied ong>toong> a Four-year College

Only 61 percent of students qualified ong>toong> attend a somewhat selective college, ong>theong> majority of Illinois public universities,

applied ong>toong> a four-year college

Tracking students who aspired ong>toong> complete a four-year degree by access category through ong>theong> steps ong>toong> college enrollment:

Percent of Students

100

80

60

40

20

0

100

Access ong>toong> Very Selective Four-Year

Access ong>toong> Selective Four-Year

Access ong>toong> Somewhat Selective Four-Year

Access ong>toong> Nonselective Four-Year

Access ong>toong> Two-Year Only

Aspired ong>toong>

Complete at Least a

Four-Year Degree

96

86

73

60

50

Planned ong>toong> Attend

a Four-Year College

in ong>theong> Fall

students with low qualifications who fail ong>toong> meet

benchmarks in ong>theong> college application process; many

students with access ong>toong> somewhat selective or selective

colleges did not plan ong>toong> attend a four-year college, and

even many students who planned ong>toong> attend did not

apply. Only 73 percent of students qualified ong>toong> attend

a somewhat selective college (ong>theong> majority of four-year

colleges in Illinois) planned ong>toong> attend a four-year college

in ong>theong> fall, and only 61 percent applied. Similarly,

only 76 percent of students qualified ong>toong> attend a selective

four-year college applied ong>toong> a four-year college.

Those students who did apply were accepted at very

high rates.

In sum, our look at CPS seniors’ road from aspirations

ong>toong> enrollment identifies three critical benchmarks

which even many well-qualified students failed ong>toong>

Note: These figures are based on ong>theong> ong>Potholesong> Sample (see Appendix B for details). Thir- college, and 18 percent only had access ong>toong> a two-year college. See How We Define College

Note: These figures are based on ong>theong> ong>Potholesong> Sample (see Appendix B for details). Thirteen

teen percent of ong>theong> ong>Potholesong> Sample had access ong>toong> a very selective college, 19 percent ong>toong> a Access on p. 17 for a description of how ong>theong>se access categories were created.

percent of ong>theong> ong>Potholesong> Sample had access ong>toong> a very selective college, 19 percent ong>toong> a

selective college, 32 percent ong>toong> a somewhat selective college, 17 percent ong>toong> a nonselective

selective college, 32 percent ong>toong> a somewhat selective college, 17 percent ong>toong> a nonselective

college, and 18 percent only had access ong>toong> a two-year college. See “How We Define College

Access” on page 17 for a description of how ong>theong>se access categories were created.

90

76

61

45

30

Applied ong>toong> a

Four-Year College

89

72

54

31

16

Accepted inong>toong> a

Four-Year College

81

62

43

20

8

Enrolled in a

Four-Year College

Chapter 35


make. First, many students like Jennie opt ong>toong> attend a

two-year or vocational or technical school instead of a

four-year college. Second, many students like Maribel,

who planned ong>toong> attend a four-year college, do not apply.

Third, even students who apply ong>toong> and are accepted at

a four-year college do not always enroll. Approximately

8 percent of ong>theong> most highly qualified CPS students

in our sample were accepted ong>toong> a college but did not

ultimately enroll. We observe this trend even after we

have adjusted our college enrollment numbers ong>toong> account

for ong>theong> fact that not all colleges participate in ong>theong>

NSC. 36 How could students who had been accepted

ong>toong> college not enroll? We will return ong>toong> this important

question later in this chapter.

Latino students Have ong>theong> Most Difficulty Managing

College Enrollment

Research has consistently found that Latino students

have ong>theong> most difficulty managing ong>theong> college

application process and gaining access ong>toong> guidance

and support. 37 Figure 13 presents ong>theong> proportion of

students who ong>toong>ok ong>theong> steps ong>toong> enroll in a four-year

college by students’ race/ethnicity. Not surprisingly,

even among students qualified ong>toong> attend a four-year

college, Latino students were ong>theong> least likely ong>toong> plan

ong>toong> enroll in a four-year college after graduation and

ong>theong> least likely ong>toong> apply ong>toong> a four-year college. Only 60

percent of Latino graduates who aspired ong>toong> attain a

four-year degree planned ong>toong> attend a four-year college in

Figure 13.

Figure Of students 13 who aspired ong>toong> complete a four-year degree, Latino students were ong>theong> least likely ong>toong> plan ong>toong> attend and apply ong>toong> a four-year college

Of students who aspired ong>toong> a bachelors degree, Latinos were ong>theong> least likely ong>toong> plan ong>toong> attend and apply ong>toong> a four-year college

Tracking students by race/ethnicity through ong>theong> steps ong>toong> college enrollment:

Percent of Students

100

80

60

40

20

0

100

Asian-American

African-American

White/Oong>theong>r Ethnic

Latino

Aspired ong>toong>

Complete at Least a

Four-Year Degree

83

77

76

60

Planned ong>toong> Attend

a Four-Year College

in ong>theong> Fall

Applied ong>toong> a

Four-Year College

Accepted inong>toong> a

Four-Year College

Enrolled in a

Four-Year College

Note: These figures are based on ong>theong> ong>Potholesong> Sample (see Appendix B for details). The

Note: These figures are based on ong>theong> ong>Potholesong> Sample (see Appendix B for details). The racial/ethnic composition of ong>theong> ong>Potholesong> Sample is: 8 percent Asian-American, 47 percent

racial/ethnic composition of ong>theong> ong>Potholesong> Sample is: 8 percent Asian-American, 47 percent

African-American, 13 percent White/Oong>theong>r ethnic, and 31 percent Latino.

African-American, 13 percent White/Oong>theong>r Ethnic, and 31 percent Latino.

36 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

72

65

64

46

68

61

53

40

63

52

41

30


ong>theong> fall, compared ong>toong> 77 percent of African-American

and 76 percent of White/Oong>theong>r Ethnic graduates.

Fewer than half of Latino students who wanted a fouryear

degree applied ong>toong> a four-year college, compared

ong>toong> about 65 percent of ong>theong>ir African-American and

White/Oong>theong>r Ethnic counterparts. Importantly, many

Latino students (10 percent) were accepted at a four-year

college but did not enroll. The loss of students

between acceptance and enrollment (ong>theong> last step) was

quite similar for Latino, White/Oong>theong>r Ethnic students

(9 percent), and African-American students (1 percent).

However, this 10 percentage point drop represents

5 percent of all Latino students who had been

accepted ong>toong> a college. The proportional loss for Latino

students was larger because so few actually reached ong>theong>

point of acceptance ong>toong> a four-year college.

One common explanation for why Latino CPS

students do not enroll in four-year colleges is that

ong>theong>y are immigrants, particularly undocumented

immigrants. In our analysis, since we cannot determine

if students are undocumented, we examine ong>theong> role

of immigrant status. Our analysis finds that Latino

students were less likely than White/Oong>theong>r Ethnic and

African-American graduates ong>toong> both plan ong>toong> attend

and apply ong>toong> four-year colleges, regardless of wheong>theong>r

ong>theong>y were born in or immigrated ong>toong> ong>theong> United States.

We conducted a multivariate analysis that estimated ong>theong>

probability of taking ong>theong>se steps (i.e., planning ong>toong> attend

a four-year college and applying ong>toong> a four-year college)

controlling for students’ qualifications and background

characteristics, including students’ immigrant status

(born in ong>theong> United States, came ong>toong> ong>theong> United States

before age ten, or after age ten). 38 We found that Latino

students are less likely than oong>theong>r racial/ethnic groups

both ong>toong> plan ong>toong> attend and ong>toong> apply ong>toong> four-year colleges

regardless of wheong>theong>r ong>theong>y were born in or immigrated

ong>toong> ong>theong> United States. Among all students, immigrants

who came ong>toong> ong>theong> United States after age ten were

much less likely than students born in ong>theong> United States

ong>toong> take ong>theong>se two important steps. Although it is a

facong>toong>r, immigrant status alone cannot explain why so

many more Latino students who aspire ong>toong> attain fouryear

degrees are less likely ong>toong> plan ong>toong> enroll or apply

than African-American students. Even among Latino

students born in ong>theong> United States, our analysis finds

that ong>theong>y are still 15 percentage points less likely ong>toong> plan

ong>toong> enroll in a four-year college and 8 percentage points

less likely ong>toong> apply ong>toong> a four-year college.

In short, Latino students who aspired ong>toong> complete

a four-year college degree, regardless of wheong>theong>r ong>theong>y

were born in or outside of ong>theong> United States, were significantly

less likely ong>toong> plan ong>toong> attend and apply ong>toong> a

four-year college than oong>theong>r CPS graduates. In Chapter

1, we noted that Latino students were less likely ong>toong>

attend college than oong>theong>r students, and we found that

differences in qualifications, family background, and

immigrant status could not account for ong>theong>se lower

rates of enrollment. This is also true for four-year college

enrollment. For example, Latino students who

aspired ong>toong> attain a four-year degree were approximately

13 percentage points less likely ong>toong> enroll in a four-year

college than oong>theong>r students, controlling for students’

high school qualifications, family background, and

neighborhood characteristics. Much of this gap in fouryear

college enrollment can be explained by ong>theong> fact

that Latino students were less likely ong>toong> take ong>theong> steps

ong>toong> enroll in a four-year college. When we account for

wheong>theong>r students planned ong>toong> attend a four-year college,

ong>theong> gap falls significantly ong>toong> 5 percent. If we account

for wheong>theong>r students actually applied ong>toong> a four-year

college ong>theong> gap falls ong>toong> 3 percent—a difference that is

no longer statistically significant.

To restate, Latino students who ong>toong>ok ong>theong> steps ong>toong>

enroll in a four-year college—who planned ong>toong> attend

a four-year college and applied ong>toong> a four-year college—were

only slightly less likely than ong>theong>ir African-

American and White/Oong>theong>r Ethnic counterparts ong>toong>

enroll, controlling for ong>theong>ir high school qualifications

and family background. That is, qualifications alone

do not explain ong>theong> lower enrollment of Latino students

in four-year colleges. Raong>theong>r, ong>theong>ir lower rates of enrollment

may be attributed ong>toong> ong>theong> fact that so few Latino

students who aspire ong>toong> complete a four-year degree

plan ong>toong> attend and apply ong>toong> a four-year college. Thus,

if we can explain why Latino students are less likely

ong>toong> take ong>theong>se two steps—planning ong>toong> attend a fouryear

college and applying ong>toong> a four-year college—we

can better understand ong>theong>ir lower four-year college

enrollment rates.

Chapter 37


How Many Undocumented CPS Latino Graduates Are There?

This chapter closely examines ong>theong> college-going

patterns of Latino CPS graduates and ong>theong> reasons

why Latino students are less likely ong>toong> enroll in

four-year colleges than ong>theong>ir classmates. There is

a common belief in schools and among ong>theong> public

that this gap in enrollment is caused by a large

number of undocumented Latino students. For ong>theong>

approximately 13 percent of Latino graduates who

are Puerong>toong> Rican, U.S. citizenship clearly is not an

issue. vii Analysis in this chapter has shown that immigrants,

particularly students who had immigrated

after age ten, are less likely ong>toong> enroll in four-year

colleges. However, we found that immigrant status

does not fully explain ong>theong> gap in college enrollment

between Latino and oong>theong>r students; after controlling

for immigrant status, qualifications, and oong>theong>r

student characteristics, Latino students are still 13

percentage points less likely ong>toong> enroll in a four-year

college than African-American students. Therefore

immigrant status, which includes both undocumented

and documented students, is not a sufficient

explanation for ong>theong> gap.

Still, being an undocumented immigrant clearly

poses a barrier ong>toong> four-year college enrollment beyond

barriers faced by oong>theong>r CPS students. viii Students

who are undocumented immigrants are not eligible

for federal or state financial aid and cannot file a

FAFSA, which may make ong>theong>m ineligible for institutional

aid. They may also have greater difficulty

navigating ong>theong> already complicated college search

and application process. College applications often

ask for immigration status, which may deter students

from applying.

Given ong>theong> obstacles that undocumented students

face, we sought ong>toong> estimate ong>theong> percentage of CPS

graduates who are undocumented immigrants so

that we could better understand ong>theong> magnitude of

this issue. Because CPS does not maintain records

on students’ citizenship or immigration status, we

used a couple of different methods ong>toong> estimate ong>theong>

38 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

number of undocumented graduates. First, CPS

has students’ Social Security numbers (SSNs), and

ong>theong>se went through a validation process. We can use

ong>theong> percentage of students who have valid SSNs ong>toong>

roughly calculate ong>theong> undocumented population.

This estimate will likely be high; we expect this

number includes some students who are citizens and

declined ong>toong> report ong>theong>ir SSNs ong>toong> CPS or incorrectly

reported ong>theong>ir SSNs. Using this method for ong>theong> class

of 006, we find that 14.5 percent of Latino graduates

do not have valid SSNs. However, Latino graduates

are not ong>theong> only racial/ethnic group that has a high

percentage of students without SSNs; 11.4 percent

of White/Oong>theong>r Ethnic graduates and 6.1 percent

of Asian-American graduates also lack SSNs.

Valid SSN No SSN

Asian-American 93.9% 6.1%

African-American 96.9% 3.1%

Latino 85.5% 14.5%

White/Oong>theong>r Ethnic 88.6% 11.4%

Second, we can use CPS records ong>toong> determine ong>theong>

percentage of students who were born outside ong>theong>

United States and ong>theong>n calculate ong>theong> percentage of

ong>theong>se non-native students who had valid employment

records (with SSNs) within a year of graduation according

ong>toong> ong>theong> Illinois Department of Employment

Security. Because ong>theong>re are numerous reasons why

graduates may not work in Illinois, this also will

be an overestimate. Among Latino graduates, 8.6

percent were born outside ong>theong> United States. Of

ong>theong>se students, 60. percent did not have valid employment

records. This represents 17. percent of

all Latino graduates, a figure somewhat higher than

our first estimate. Using this method, percent of

Asian-American students and 11. percent of White/

Oong>theong>r Ethnic graduates were born outside ong>theong> United

States and do not have employment records.

Having undocumented students clearly poses


a challenge ong>toong> high schools that are working on

increasing ong>theong> number of ong>theong>ir graduates who make

ong>theong> transition ong>toong> postsecondary education. However,

our estimates of ong>theong> percentage of students who

may be undocumented indicate that having large

proportions of undocumented students is not an

adequate explanation for ong>theong> gap in college enrollment.

Moreover, both of ong>theong>se estimates of ong>theong>

percentage of undocumented Latino graduates,

14.5 percent and 17. percent, are almost certainly

high. While ong>theong> barriers ong>toong> college enrollment for

undocumented students are very real, ong>theong> perception

that ong>theong>se barriers are faced by large proportions

of students appears ong>toong> be exaggerated. Finally, as

has been consistently documented throughout this

report, immigrant status does not explain ong>theong> gap

in ong>theong> college-going rates of Latino students and

ong>theong>ir similarly prepared peers of oong>theong>r racial/ethnic

groups. This point cannot be overstated: Latino

students are not going ong>toong> college at expected rates,

not even when controlling for immigrant status.

A Qualitative Look at Students who

Became “Early Two-Year” College-Goers

The pattern of nonapplication in Figure 1 suggests

that CPS students who aspire ong>toong> enroll in four-year

colleges may face barriers in addition ong>toong> qualifications

in ong>theong> search and application process. Among students

who aspired ong>toong> attain a four-year degree and left high

school with high qualifications (eligible for selective

or very selective college), a surprising number never

even applied ong>toong> a four-year college, while oong>theong>rs such

as Jennie made an early decision ong>toong> attend a two-year

school. This pattern describes nearly one-quarter of students

with access ong>toong> selective and 10 percent of students

with access ong>toong> very selective colleges. As we described

in ong>theong> previous section, it describes fully 40 percent

of Latino students. For most of this chapter, we look

quantitatively at what school-level and student-level

characteristics may shape ong>theong> likelihood of students

taking each of ong>theong> steps for college enrollment. Data

from our qualitative study, however, is particularly

useful in investigating ong>theong> process by which CPS students,

many of whom are qualified ong>toong> attend a four-year

college, decide ong>toong> enroll in a two-year college. In our

qualitative study, 16 of ong>theong> 105 students we interviewed

followed ong>theong> pattern we observe in Figure 11, making

an “early” decision ong>toong> attend a two-year school. 39 In this

section, we present results of our qualitative analysis

that closely examined ong>theong> ong>theong>mes that seem ong>toong> lead

students ong>toong> make ong>theong> decision ong>toong> choose two-year over

four-year schools early in ong>theong>ir senior year. 40

Why do students who aspire ong>toong> complete a fouryear

degree make an early decision ong>toong> go ong>toong> a two-year

college? 41 One hypoong>theong>sis is that students are expressing

a strong preference for two-year versus four-year

colleges as a path ong>toong> a four-year degree because of costs

and consideration of what educational settings may

best meet ong>theong>ir and ong>theong>ir families’ needs. Thus, one

reading of our results is that students may be expressing

a clear intention ong>toong> plan ong>toong> attend a two-year school

and ong>theong>n transfer ong>toong> a four-year school. A second

hypoong>theong>sis is that students are “defaulting” ong>toong> two-year

colleges because ong>theong>y have difficulty managing ong>theong>

process of searching for, applying ong>toong>, and financing

college.

Chapter 39


Drawing on student interviews, we conducted an

analysis of ong>theong>se 16 students in our qualitative study

who had ambitions ong>toong> attend a four-year college but

made an early decision not ong>toong> enroll in a four-year

school, often before ever applying. Our analysis sought

ong>toong> identify ong>theong> common ong>theong>mes in how ong>theong>se students

thought about ong>theong>ir college search and ong>toong> describe ong>theong>

processes that led ong>toong> ong>theong>ir college choices. 4 These

students had four common characteristics. First, all

of ong>theong>se students experienced strong positive press for

college from teachers and parents, but lacked structured

support and concrete guidance ong>toong> help ong>theong>m organize

ong>theong>ir information and manage ong>theong> process. Second,

many of ong>theong>se students were worried about college costs

and lacked information on how financial aid worked

and what ong>theong> real cost of a four-year college would

be, net of financial aid. Third, ong>theong>se students were

confused about how ong>toong> pick a college and became risk

averse because of concerns about making ong>theong> wrong

college decision. Fourth, ong>theong>ir concerns and confusion

led ong>theong>m ong>toong> “opt out,” or ong>toong> make a decision ong>theong>y

felt was safe and would get ong>theong>m ong>toong> a college campus

without a clear plan for how that decision might lead

ong>toong> a four-year degree. These ong>theong>mes were not unique ong>toong>

students in this group, but ong>theong>y were pervasive among

ong>theong>se students and came ong>toong>geong>theong>r in such a way that

students, often in frustration, expressed that ong>theong>y “gave

up.” Thus, as we look at ong>theong> following common ong>theong>mes,

our analysis suggests that ong>theong> choice of a two-year over

a four-year college was, for ong>theong>se students, primarily

driven by confusion over how ong>toong> manage ong>theong> college

application process raong>theong>r than an informed choice that

a two-year college was preferable.

Theme 1: positive Messages about College but a

Lack of structured support

Contrary ong>toong> popular belief, hardly any students in this

group stated in ong>theong>ir junior year or at ong>theong> beginning of

ong>theong>ir senior year that ong>theong>ir plan was ong>toong> attend a twoyear

school and transfer ong>toong> a four-year school. In ong>theong>

earliest interviews, virtually none of ong>theong> students in our

qualitative study who made an early decision ong>toong> attend

a two-year school looked as though ong>theong>y were headed

in that direction. The majority, like Jennie, were academically

qualified ong>toong> attend a four-year school, and all

40 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

of ong>theong>se students hoped ong>toong> attend a four-year college. 43

These students also reported receiving many positive

messages about ong>theong> value of a college education from

ong>theong>ir parents and school. They reported strong push

from ong>theong>ir parents about ong>theong> importance of attending

college, mostly in ong>theong> form of general exhortation

on ong>theong> benefits of education. As one typical student

explained, “Well, my parents came from Mexico and

ong>theong>y really didn’t go ong>toong> college . . . (but) ong>theong>y do know ong>theong>

importance of college and ong>theong>y enforce that.”

At ong>theong> same time, a consistent ong>theong>me among ong>theong>se

students was that ong>theong>y lacked structured support or

guidance from adults at ong>theong>ir schools or from oong>theong>r

role models who could shepherd ong>theong>m through ong>theong>

postsecondary process. Many reported getting general

information about college but lacked one-on-one guidance

from a knowledgeable adult. Many did not have a

college-educated adult in ong>theong>ir families, leaving ong>theong>m ong>toong>

rely on ong>theong>ir schools for individual guidance. Yet not a

single student in this group reported meeting individually

with a counselor ong>toong> discuss future plans.

Thus, most of ong>theong> students in this group reported

getting information about college in ong>theong> most general

ways—assemblies, visits from college representatives, or

class presentations by counselors—but received little concrete

and personalized attention. As one student described:

“. . . every Friday, we come ong>toong> ong>theong> audiong>toong>rium, all

ong>theong> seniors, and ong>theong>re is always a counselor . . .

throwing out flyers, dates, schedule times and all

that . . . I don’t take [ong>theong> hand-outs] because ong>theong>y

give out information about oong>theong>r colleges, and I’m

only interested in two colleges.”

And anoong>theong>r responded this way ong>toong> ong>theong> question:

“Do your counselors talk ong>toong> you at all about college?”

“They give us our test scores back and ong>theong>y’ll tell us,

‘You need this and this ong>toong> go ong>toong> college. That’s why

you should pass [your classes] and stuff like that.

Or, ong>theong>y [ask] us, ‘What are you going ong>toong> do?’ [There

are] . . . some open houses, and sometimes ong>theong>y

have field trips. For ong>theong> students who want ong>toong> apply,

ong>theong>y put ong>theong>ir name on ong>theong> list and ong>theong>y get ong>toong> go on

a field trip ong>toong> a college.”


Theme 2: sticker shock and Lack of Information on

Financial Aid

A second important ong>theong>me among early two-year

college students was ong>theong> experience of “sticker shock”

as ong>theong>y began looking at ong>theong> costs of four-year college,

combined with a lack of understanding of how

ong>toong> obtain financial aid and information on real costs

of four-year versus two-year colleges. These students,

like many, were anxious about costs and debt and

had little understanding of financial aid. This anxiety

and lack of information often led students ong>toong> rule out

four-year colleges before even applying for financial

aid. Most of ong>theong>se students never filled out a FAFSA.

One student describes her fear of financially burdening

her family:

“I talked ong>toong> my parents about that . . . because my

broong>theong>r goes ong>toong> college. It’s a lot of money, and I

know ong>theong>y say that ong>theong>re’s a lot of money out ong>theong>re

[for college] . . . but it seems like [it takes] forever ong>toong>

look for it. I tried ong>toong> [look for money], on ong>theong> Internet

but it seems so confusing . . . I don’t understand

anything. I ong>toong>ld [my parents] I don’t know if I want ong>toong>

go ong>toong> college anymore, because it’s so much money,

ong>theong>y’re paying so much for my broong>theong>r. I don’t want

ong>toong> be anoong>theong>r load of money that ong>theong>y have ong>toong> pay

for. My parents say that it’s up ong>toong> me, but ong>theong>y would

be proud of me going ong>toong> college.”

As this student illustrates, ong>theong> dearth of solid

information and not knowing how ong>toong> organize ong>theong>

information available inong>toong> a workable plan became

overwhelming. Many students also worried greatly

about loans. The same young woman explained:

“I have some family members who got student loans

and ong>theong>y’re like 26 right now and ong>theong>y’re still paying

those, and I don’t want ong>toong> be like, ‘Oh, I have ong>toong> pay

my loan’ like all ong>theong> time.”

Theme 3: Fear of Making ong>theong> Wrong College Choice

Economists view college choice as a decision where

students balance ong>theong> payoffs of different colleges against

ong>theong> costs of a college education. 44 A third consistent

ong>theong>me in this group of early two-year college students

was that ong>theong>y did not have ong>theong> information ong>toong> engage

in this decision, because ong>theong>y misundersong>toong>od ong>theong> real

costs and were confused about how ong>toong> evaluate ong>theong>

benefits. There is a pervasive belief among first-generation

college-goers in our study that ong>theong> best way ong>toong>

pick a college is ong>toong> first decide what career ong>theong>y want

ong>toong> have, ong>theong>n determine which schools in ong>theong> area are

best suited ong>toong> prepare students for that career, and ong>theong>n

pick among those colleges. Uncertainty about ong>theong>ir

majors or chosen careers became significant barriers ong>toong>

ong>theong>se students that derailed ong>theong>ir plans. Many expressed

anxiety about picking ong>theong> wrong college. One student,

for example, describes ong>theong> best advice he could give ong>toong>

a future college applicant:

“Pick one [college/career] and make sure that is ong>theong>

one that you want ong>toong> go for. Don’t pick one and once

you’re in it be like, ‘Damn, I don’t like this, I don’t

want ong>toong> do this.’”

Students’ confusion about what kind of major and

what kind of career ong>theong>y should aim for led ong>toong> a palpable

sense of confusion, as Jennie described when asked

about ong>theong> state of her postsecondary plans:

“I have no idea [what I want ong>toong> do next year]. I want

ong>toong> go ong>toong> college, but I don’t know what I want ong>toong> be.

I was just talking ong>toong> my friend ong>toong>day . . . she went ong>toong>

Columbia over ong>theong> weekend . . . she was saying how

great it was ong>theong>re, but she doesn’t feel like she wants

ong>toong> go ong>theong>re. I feel like if I were ong>toong> go inong>toong> ong>theong>ater or

something like that, what are ong>theong> chances of finding

a job? I know it’s horrible, but I’m so confused at ong>theong>

moment.”

Theme 4: Risk Aversion and Defaulting ong>toong> a

Two-Year Option

The final ong>theong>me we identified was that many early

two-year college students acted on seemingly random

pieces of information ong>toong> make what appeared ong>toong> ong>theong>m

ong>toong> be a safer choice. Based on ong>theong> conflicting ideas

described above, students were left in a vulnerable

position ong>toong> negotiate ong>theong>ir college plans. They received

consistently positive messages about ong>theong> importance

of going ong>toong> college, but ong>theong>y were confused about ong>theong>

Chapter 41


process. They were fearful of debt, financial burden,

and making ong>theong> wrong choice, and ong>theong>y had no individual

guidance ong>toong> help alleviate those fears. This

led ong>toong> a state of risk aversion. By winter of senior year,

early two-year college students started looking for safe

routes that would get ong>theong>m ong>toong> college, but also alleviate

ong>theong>ir fears. Many began ong>toong> view two-year schools and

technical/trade programs as lower risk options, citing

ong>theong> low price tag (in ong>theong> case of two-year program),

or ong>theong> clear path ong>toong> a career (in ong>theong> case of technical

schools). Students began responding ong>toong> what seemed

like random, uninvestigated, or even incorrect pieces of

information, but ong>theong>ir decisions made ong>theong>m feel safe.

Early two-year college students responded ong>toong> random

information in three related ways. First, students began

repeating advice, often from sources ong>theong>y could not

clearly remember or identify, that ong>theong> first two years of

college are exactly ong>theong> same at any institution, two-year

or four-year. The first two years of college often were

referred ong>toong> as “ong>theong> basics,” as ong>theong> following students’

accounts of ong>theong>ir college choices illustrate:

“I [asked my teacher] . . . if I should just go ong>toong> Daley

(City College) instead of ong>toong> IIT (a very selective

college). He ong>toong>ld me . . . just go ong>toong> Daley—you

save more money going ong>toong> Daley and get your

basic classes done, ong>theong>n transfer ong>theong>m out ong>toong> . . . ong>toong>

whatever college you want ong>toong> go ong>toong>.”

“I’m gonna go ong>toong> Moraine (Valley Community College)

ong>toong> do my basics, because I didn’t know that you

needed basics no matter what you’re looking inong>toong>. I

might as well just go ong>toong> community college, get that

over with, and ong>theong>n apply ong>toong> [four-year schools]. I’m

still applying ong>toong> ong>theong> oong>theong>r universities, just ong>toong> give it

a shot, but most likely I’m gonna end up going ong>toong>

Moraine Valley.”

The second type of safe decision-making came from

students hearing that two-year colleges or trade school

programs were a better bargain, eiong>theong>r because ong>theong> tuition

cost was lower or because it would be a faster route ong>toong> a

job. One student, who always wanted ong>toong> study architecture

at a college, said he became interested in a carpentry

trade school because it was a quick route ong>toong> a job:

4 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

“I don’t think it’s really college or something. It’s just

ong>theong>y train you, and ong>theong>n ong>theong>y give you a job right

away. And ong>theong>y start paying you.”

The third way students made safe decisions was ong>toong>

pick a two-year college as a low-risk option when ong>theong>y

weren’t sure what else ong>toong> do. One student describes her

uncertainty:

“I was thinking about just going ong>toong> community

college instead, because ong>theong>y’ve been telling me so

many things like, ‘Oh, right now you want something,

ong>theong>n later on you’re just going ong>toong> change it, and ong>theong>n

you’re just gonna go waste your money, and ong>theong>n

you’re going ong>toong> want ong>toong> change ong>toong> something else.’

So ong>theong>y—my teachers, my friends, my family, my

parents, you know, everybody—got me thinking,

‘Well, are you sure that’s what you really want?’ I

thought I was sure, but now I’m not anymore.”

There are many reasons why a student might choose

ong>toong> attend a two-year college or technical training program

after high school, raong>theong>r than a four-year school,

including having low qualifications, having aspirations

ong>toong> complete such a program and not a four-year degree,

or not having citizenship status ong>toong> submit a FAFSA, but

ong>theong>se were not ong>theong> reasons that most students in our

study made ong>theong> early decision ong>toong> attend a two-year college.

Raong>theong>r, our analysis suggests that students chose

a two-year college, not because of ong>theong> lure of two-year

colleges or a clear plan for how ong>toong> use a two-year college

as a first step on ong>theong> path ong>toong> attaining a four-year degree,

but raong>theong>r as a default option after ong>theong>y have struggled

with confusion and fear about how ong>toong> capitalize on

ong>theong>ir ambition ong>toong> attend a four-year college.

What Matters in Shaping Wheong>theong>r

Students Take ong>theong> Steps ong>toong> Enroll in a

Four-Year College?

The central question raised by our analysis so far is:

Can teachers and counselors make a difference in

wheong>theong>r students take ong>theong> steps necessary ong>toong> enroll in

a four-year college? A key difference between Moises

and Grady (see case study p. 6) and Maribel and


Jennie (see case studies p. 54 and p. 56) was ong>theong> extent

ong>toong> which ong>theong>se students had an important adult

at ong>theong>ir school supporting and guiding ong>theong>m through

this process and ong>theong> extent ong>toong> which ong>theong>ir families

were involved in guiding ong>theong>ir college search. Previous

research largely confirms this observation. First-

generation college students and low-income students

are especially dependent on nonfamilial adults, such

as teachers, ong>toong> assist ong>theong>m with ong>theong> college application

process. 45 ong>Schoolong>s may have strong influence

on students’ decisions and behaviors; schools can set

strong norms for college enrollment and provide ong>theong>

information and guidance students need ong>toong> effectively

manage ong>theong> search and application process.

When examining what matters for students ong>toong>

take ong>theong> necessary steps ong>toong> translate ong>theong>ir aspirations

inong>toong> enrollment, it is particularly important ong>toong> look

at school-level raong>theong>r than individual-level characteristics.

We asked students on ong>theong> senior survey, for

example, ong>toong> report how many times ong>theong>y talked ong>toong> a

counselor. Students who talk ong>toong> counselors may be

more likely ong>toong> go ong>toong> college because of ong>theong>ir counselors’

help, but it may also be that, like Moises and

Grady, students who are actively involved in ong>theong>

college application process are ong>theong> ones talking ong>toong>

counselors. Thus, we focus on school-level raong>theong>r than

student-level facong>toong>rs because we want ong>toong> distinguish

between ong>theong> impact that a school-level facong>toong>r, such as

counselors, has and ong>theong> effect of being a particularly

motivated student. That is, if students who attend

schools where students report strong levels of contact

with counselors are more likely ong>toong> take ong>theong> steps ong>toong>

college, ong>theong>n we know that having a strong counseling

department has an overall impact on students,

not just on those who are motivated enough ong>toong> talk

ong>toong> a counselor.

To look at ong>theong> effect of school influences on students’

behavior, we conducted a series of analyses that

estimated students’ likelihood of taking each of ong>theong>

steps we identified in ong>theong> road ong>toong> a four-year college:

(1) planning ong>toong> attend a four-year school in ong>theong> fall

among students who aspired ong>toong> complete a four-year

degree, ( ) applying among students who planned ong>toong>

attend a four-year college, (3) being accepted among

students who applied, and (4) enrolling among

students who had been accepted. In ong>theong>se analyses,

we started with ong>theong> same set of control variables that

we used in our previous analyses (demographics,

qualifications, family background, students’ immigrant

status, and neighborhood characteristics). We

also controlled for wheong>theong>r students were involved in

school activities and sports teams, worked outside of

school, participated in college search activities (attended

college fairs and used college guide books),

and how ong>theong>y responded on surveys ong>toong> questions

about support from ong>theong>ir peers, parents, teachers,

and counselors (see Appendix D for descriptions

of ong>theong> variables). We were particularly interested in

how students’ probability of enrolling was shaped by

ong>theong>ir and ong>theong>ir teachers’ reports of ong>theong> college-going

culture in ong>theong>ir school and teacher and counselor support

for college. Our estimates of ong>theong> effect of high

school characteristics represent ong>theong> difference in ong>theong>

probability of a student taking each step if he or she

attended a high school with high levels of each school

characteristic (e.g., strong college-going culture)

compared ong>toong> if that student attended a school with

low levels of each school characteristic (e.g., a weak

college-going culture).

In ong>theong> multivariate analyses in this chapter, we used

ong>theong> ong>Potholesong> Analytic Sample, a subset of students in

our ong>Potholesong> Sample. In ong>theong> ong>Potholesong> Analytic Sample,

we furong>theong>r limited our sample ong>toong> students with ong>theong>

qualifications ong>toong> attend at least a nonselective fouryear

college and students who did not attend selective

enrollment high schools. Selective enrollment high

schools are, by definition, schools that select ong>theong>ir

students on ong>theong> basis of ong>theong>ir ability ong>toong> do collegepreparaong>toong>ry

work and ong>theong>ir greater orientation ong>toong>ward

college. Thus, when we compare selective enrollment

high school students’ college outcomes ong>toong> those of

students in neighborhood high schools, it is difficult

ong>toong> disentangle wheong>theong>r ong>theong> school environment has an

effect or if ong>theong> more motivated and qualified student

population is driving ong>theong> results. However, our pattern

of results is very similar wheong>theong>r or not we include

ong>theong>se high schools. We first conducted each analysis

for all students and ong>theong>n conducted analyses separately

by race/ethnicity and by students’ qualifications.

Chapter 43


The College-Going Culture of a school

strongly shaped students’ plans

Research on college choice often finds that one of ong>theong>

most important predicong>toong>rs of wheong>theong>r students go ong>toong>

college is wheong>theong>r ong>theong>y attend a high school where ong>theong>

majority of students tend ong>toong> go ong>toong> college. 46 Collegegoing

rates in ong>theong> school may have a strong effect on

an individual student’s behavior because ong>theong>y capture

ong>theong> overall college-going culture of ong>theong> school, as well

as wheong>theong>r ong>theong> school provides critical guidance and

support. College-going rates may also represent ong>theong>

importance of feeder patterns—that is, once students

from a high school start going ong>toong> a particular college,

more students are likely ong>toong> follow suit. We measured ong>theong>

college-going culture of a school using two variables:

(1) ong>theong> percentage of students from ong>theong> prior graduating

class who attended a four-year school and ( ) ong>theong>

school average of teacher survey responses on ong>theong> college

climate in ong>theong>ir school (teachers’ assessments of

college climate; for details, see How We Measure ong>Highong>

ong>Schoolong> College-Going Culture, p. 45). This second variable

is based on responses ong>toong> questions asked of all high

school teachers about ong>theong> extent ong>toong> which students in

ong>theong>ir school go ong>toong> college, wheong>theong>r ong>theong>ir school’s curriculum

is geared ong>toong>ward preparing students for college,

and wheong>theong>r teachers in ong>theong>ir school helped students

plan for college outside of class time. Both of ong>theong>se measures

of college-going culture were important predicong>toong>rs

of wheong>theong>r students with aspirations ong>toong> complete four-

year degrees planned ong>toong> attend four-year colleges

(see Figure 14). Attending a school with a strong

college-going culture was particularly important for

Latino students, ong>theong> group least likely ong>toong> plan ong>toong> attend

a four-year college after graduation.

Some school-level facong>toong>rs were particularly important

for wheong>theong>r Latino students planned ong>toong> attend a four-year

college (see Figure 15). Latino students’ plans seemed

ong>toong> be particularly influenced by ong>theong>ir connections with

teachers. The school average of student reports of ong>theong>ir

connection with teachers was not related ong>toong> college plans

among all CPS students, but it was a significant predicong>toong>r

of wheong>theong>r Latino students planned ong>toong> attend a four-year

college in ong>theong> fall. For Latino students, participating in

a school activity, anoong>theong>r way of providing students an

opportunity ong>toong> develop relationships with teachers and

How ong>toong> Interpret Vertical Bar Graphs

The size of ong>theong> each bar indicates an estimated difference of a student’s outcome (e.g.,

ong>theong> probability of planning ong>toong> attend a four-year college) between two students with

similar characteristics but where one is strong on a measure and ong>theong> oong>theong>r is weak

or for school-level measures, if one student attends a strong school and ong>theong> oong>theong>r

attends a weak school.

A strong student/school measure is defined as being one standard deviation above

ong>theong> mean and a weak student/school measure is one standard deviation below ong>theong> mean.

Figure 14 indicates that a student attending a strong school, with a high percentage

of ong>theong> previous cohort enrolled in a four-year college, was 13 percentage points more

likely ong>toong> plan on attending a four-year college than a student attending a weak school

with a low percentage of students enrolled in a four-year college.

Figure 14. Students in ong>Schoolong>s with Strong College-going Cultures were

More Likely ong>toong> Plan ong>toong> Attend a Four-year College

Figure 14

students in schools with strong college-going cultures

were more likely ong>toong> plan ong>toong> attend a four-year college

Difference in ong>theong> likelihood of planning ong>toong> attend a four-year college between

students in schools that have strong versus weak college-going cultures:

Percentage Point Difference in

Predicted Probability

15

10

5

0

-5

13

15

Percentage of Prior Graduates

Attending a Four-Year College

12

Teachers’ Assessment

of College Climate

All Students Latino Students

Note: A strong school is defined as being 1 standard deviation above ong>theong> mean and a weak

school is 1 standard deviation below ong>theong> mean. The analysis uses ong>theong> ong>Potholesong> Analytic Sample

(see Appendix B for details) and adjusts for student demographic, socioeconomic, and

academic characteristics. See Appendix E for a description of ong>theong> model used in this analysis.

Figure Figure How

15.

ong>toong> 15 Interpret

Latino Students

Vertical

were

Bar Graphs

More Likely ong>toong> Plan ong>toong> Attend a Four-year College

if They The size had of ong>theong> Strong each Connections bar indicates an ong>toong> estimated Their ong>Schoolong>s difference and of a Strong student’s Peer outcome Support

Latino (e.g., ong>theong> students probability were of planning more ong>toong> attend likely a four-year ong>toong> plan college) ong>toong> attend between a two four-year students

college with similar if ong>theong>y characteristics had strong but where connections one is strong ong>toong> on a ong>theong>ir measure schools and ong>theong> and oong>theong>r is

weak or for school-level measures, if one student attends a strong school and ong>theong>

strong oong>theong>r attends peer a support weak school.

A strong student/school measure is defined as being one standard deviation

above ong>theong> mean and a weak student/school measure is one standard deviation below

Difference in ong>theong> likelihood of planning ong>toong> attend a four-year college between:

ong>theong> mean.

Figure 14 indicates that a student attending a strong school, with a high percentage

of ong>theong> previous Students cohort in schools enrolled in a four-year Students college, being was strong 13 percentage versus weak points on:

more likely ong>toong> plan that on have attending strong a four-year college than a student attending a weak

school 15 with a low versus percentage weak: of students enrolled in a four-year college.

Percentage Point Difference in

Predicted Probability

44 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

10

5

0

-5

-1

9

Student-Teacher

Connections

Participated in an

Activity at ong>Schoolong>

All Students Latino Students

Note: For participation, ong>theong> difference is between an average student not participating in an activity weekly

versus an average student participating in a school activity weekly. A student/school strong on ong>theong> two

measures is defined as being 1 standard deviation above ong>theong> mean and a weak student/school is 1 standard

deviation below ong>theong> mean. This analysis uses ong>theong> ong>Potholesong> Analytic Sample (see Appendix B for details) and

adjusts for student demographic, socioeconomic, and academic characteristics. See Appendix E for a

description of ong>theong> model used in this analysis.

5

9

2

15

8

Peer Support

for Academic

Achievement


How We Measure ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong>

College-Going Culture

ong>Highong> school College-Going Culture

Percentage of Prior Graduates Attending a Four-Year College:

The percentage of 004 graduates, ong>theong> prior cohort,

who enrolled in a four-year college after high school

based on NSC data.

Teachers’ Assessment of ong>theong> College Climate in ong>theong>ir ong>Schoolong>:

Teachers were asked ong>theong> extent ong>toong> which ong>theong>y would

agree (strongly disagree ong>toong> strongly agree) that:

• Teachers (in this high school) expect most

students ong>toong> go college.

• Teachers help students plan for college outside

of class time.

• The curriculum is focused on helping students

get ready for college.

• Teachers feel that it is a part of ong>theong>ir job ong>toong>

prepare ong>toong> succeed in college.

• Many of our students are planning ong>toong> go ong>toong>

college.

Indicaong>toong>rs Wheong>theong>r ong>theong> school is Organized Around

postsecondary planning

Percentage of Prior Graduates Who Applied ong>toong> Three or More

ong>Schoolong>s: The percentage of 004 graduates, ong>theong> prior

cohort, in ong>theong> school who reported on ong>theong> CPS

Senior Exit Questionnaire that ong>theong>y had applied ong>toong>

three or more schools.

Percentage of Prior Graduates Who Completed ong>theong> FAFSA: The

percentage of 004 graduates, ong>theong> prior cohort,

in ong>theong> school who reported on ong>theong> CPS Senior

Exit Questionnaire that ong>theong>y had completed ong>theong>

FAFSA.

For a complete listing of school-level variables, see

Appendix D.

peers, was a particularly important predicong>toong>r. This suggests

that Latino students may be much more reliant on

teachers and ong>theong>ir school for guidance and information,

and that ong>theong>ir college plans are more dependent on ong>theong>ir

connections ong>toong> school. Students’ reports of wheong>theong>r ong>theong>ir

peer group had a strong academic orientation were associated

with Latino students’ likelihood of planning

ong>toong> attend a four-year college, but not for oong>theong>r students.

Previous research has found that Latino students rely

heavily on ong>theong>ir friendship networks in making educational

plans and decisions. 47 Thus, it appears that Latino

students’ plans are strongly influenced by ong>theong>ir access

ong>toong> adults and peers who support ong>theong>m in ong>theong>ir college

aspirations.

strong Counselor and Teacher support Matters for

Wheong>theong>r Latino students Apply

Having strong support at school was also important in

shaping wheong>theong>r Latino students who planned ong>toong> go ong>toong>

a four-year college followed through and applied (see

Figure 16). Controlling for student characteristics,

Latino students were much more likely ong>toong> apply ong>toong> a

four-year school if ong>theong>y reported that ong>theong>y had strong

levels of support from teachers and counselors in completing

tasks such as filling out applications and making

decisions about what school ong>toong> attend. Latino students

who attended schools where students often reported

that ong>theong>ir counselors were active in helping ong>theong>m make

post-graduation plans were also more likely ong>toong> follow

through on ong>theong>ir plans and apply ong>toong> a four-year college.

While strong counselor and teacher support had

a large impact on Latino students, ong>theong>ir effect on oong>theong>r

students’ likelihood of applying was modest.

What is clear from ong>theong>se patterns is that ong>theong> college

plans and behaviors of Latino students in CPS are

strongly shaped by ong>theong> expectations of ong>theong>ir teachers and

counselors and wheong>theong>r adults in ong>theong> building prioritize

college preparation and ong>theong> college application process.

For Latino students such as Jennie and Maribel, establishing

strong connections ong>toong> ong>theong> adults in ong>theong>ir schools

and receiving concrete support in making educational

plans and applying ong>toong> college were particularly important.

These ong>theong>mes were consistent among all ong>theong> students in

our qualitative study who aspired ong>toong> but did not end up

planning ong>toong> attend or applying ong>toong> a four-year college.

Chapter 45


Figure 17. Students Were More Likely ong>toong> Be Accepted Inong>toong> a Four-year

Figure

Figure

16.

16

Latino Students Were Much More Likely ong>toong> Apply ong>toong> a Four-year College Figure if 17 They Applied ong>toong> Multiple ong>Schoolong>s

College Latino students if They reported were much Strong more Teacher likely and ong>toong> Counselor apply ong>toong> Support a four-year students were more likely ong>toong> be accepted inong>toong> a four-year

college if ong>theong>y reported strong teacher and counselor support college if ong>theong>y applied ong>toong> multiple schools

Difference in ong>theong> likelihood of applying ong>toong> a four-year college between:

Percentage Point Difference in

Predicted Probability

20

15

10

5

0

-5

Students in schools

where students receive

strong versus weak levels of:

1

13

Counselor Press for

Academic Achievement

Students receiving

strong versus weak levels of:

Teacher/Counselor

Structured Support

All Students Latino Students

Note: A strong student/school is defined as being 1 standard deviation above ong>theong> mean

and a weak student/school is 1 standard deviation below ong>theong> mean. The analysis uses

ong>theong> ong>Potholesong> Analytic Sample (see Appendix B for details) and adjusts for student

demographic, socioeconomic, and academic characteristics. See Appendix E for a

description of ong>theong> model used in this analysis.

Wheong>theong>r students Are Active in ong>theong> Application

process Matters for Acceptance

Getting students ong>toong> apply is important but, as Grady and

Moises illustrate so vividly, getting accepted at college

requires that students apply not ong>toong> just one or two colleges

but ong>toong> multiple colleges. CPS has set ong>theong> goal that

students should apply ong>toong> at least five colleges ong>toong> maximize

ong>theong>ir options. Our analysis supports this approach. We

looked at wheong>theong>r students who stated that ong>theong>y applied

ong>toong> four-year colleges were accepted at four-year colleges

(see Figure 17). Controlling for students’ characteristics

and ong>theong>ir reports of ong>theong> individual support ong>theong>y received

from teachers, counselors, and parents, students were

more likely ong>toong> be accepted if ong>theong>y applied ong>toong> three or

more, and particularly ong>toong> six or more, colleges.

Again students’ chances of gaining admission ong>toong>

college were much higher in schools with strong college-going

cultures (see Figure 18). Even controlling

for an individual student’s number of applications,

students were more likely ong>toong> be accepted at a college

if ong>theong>y attended schools where many graduates in ong>theong>

previous cohort enrolled in four-year colleges and

reported applying ong>toong> multiple colleges, and if ong>theong>y attended

schools where teachers report that ong>theong> school

has a strong college climate. These results suggest that

students’ chances of being accepted were shaped by

2

10

Percentage Point Difference in

Predicted Probability

20

15

10

5

0

-5

All Students

3

Difference compared ong>toong> students who

applied ong>toong> fewer than three schools:

8

Applied ong>toong> Three

ong>toong> Five ong>Schoolong>s

Applied ong>toong> Six

or More ong>Schoolong>s

Students with Access ong>toong> a Non- or Somewhat Selective College

Note: This analysis uses students in ong>theong> ong>Potholesong> Analytic Sample (see Appendix B for details)

and adjusts for student demographic, socioeconomic, and academic characteristics. See

Appendix E for a description of ong>theong> model used in this analysis.

Figure 18. 18 Students Were More Likely ong>toong> Be Accepted Inong>toong> a Four-year

College students if They were Applied more likely ong>toong> Multiple ong>toong> be accepted ong>Schoolong>s inong>toong> a four-year college

if ong>theong>y attended schools with strong college-going cultures

Percentage Point Difference in

Predicted Probability

30

25

20

15

10

5

0

-5

All Students

46 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

Difference in likelihood of being accepted between students in

schools that have strong versus weak college-going cultures:

11

19

Percentage of

Prior Graduates

Attending a

Four-Year College

Teachers’

Assessment of

College Climate

10

19

Percentage of Prior

Graduates Who

Applied ong>toong> Three

or More ong>Schoolong>s

Note: A strong school is defined as being 1 standard deviation above ong>theong> mean and a weak

school is 1 standard deviation below ong>theong> mean. The analysis uses ong>theong> ong>Potholesong> Analytic

Sample (see Appendix B for details) and adjusts for student demographic, socioeconomic,

and academic characteristics. See Appendix E for a description of ong>theong> model used in this

analysis.

13

25

Students with Access ong>toong> a Non- or Somewhat Selective College

4

9


wheong>theong>r ong>theong> school environment was organized ong>toong> assist

students through ong>theong> application process. Attending a

school with a strong college-going culture is particularly

important for students who have marginal levels

of qualifications. It is ong>theong>se students who may have ong>theong>

most difficulty getting accepted at a four-year college

and whose likelihood of acceptance is most affected by

wheong>theong>r ong>theong>y are active in ong>theong> application process and

attend schools with a strong college-going culture and

where ong>theong> norm is applying ong>toong> multiple colleges.

Why Do students Who Are Accepted Not Enroll?

One of ong>theong> most puzzling places that CPS students leave

ong>theong> road ong>toong> college is ong>theong> final step of enrolling in college

once ong>theong>y are accepted. On average, while 51 percent

of CPS students are accepted, only 41 percent enroll;

thus 0 percent of ong>theong> students who are accepted ong>toong> a

four-year college do not enroll in a four-year college in

ong>theong> fall. 48 As discussed earlier, ong>theong>se results should not

be affected by wheong>theong>r students attend colleges that are

in ong>theong> NSC data because we have adjusted ong>theong> collegegoing

rates for students who reported that ong>theong>y planned

ong>toong> attend a school that is not in ong>theong> NSC. 49

Sabrina and Marco present two cases of students

from our longitudinal study that fit this pattern of

behavior. These cases illustrate ong>theong> interplay among

guidance, access ong>toong> high expectations, effective participation

in ong>theong> college application process, and potential

financial barriers that undermine college access, even

among those students who are admitted ong>toong> college and

seem initially engaged in ong>theong> college search. Sabrina

ultimately made ong>theong> mistake of losing steam during

ong>theong> college search and application process, grabbing

a lifeline ong>toong> one college that gave her an easy option,

What happens ong>toong> students who leave high school with a clear plan for attending college but never enroll

in ong>theong> fall? Sabrina, a highly qualified student, shows how becoming ong>toong>o focused on one college option

can pose a problem over ong>theong> summer. See Sabrina’s case study, p. 58.

Marco demonstrates that even students with stellar college qualifications and a strong drive ong>toong> complete

a thorough college planning process are at risk of ong>theong>ir plans falling through over ong>theong> summer.

See Marco’s case study, p. 60.

but unfortunately made her vulnerable ong>toong> that option

falling through. Marco’s case study suggests that even

students who look like ong>theong>y have successfully navigated

ong>theong> college search process may run inong>toong> barriers if ong>theong>y

do not take ong>theong> necessary steps ong>toong> apply for financial aid

and make concrete plans for ong>theong> transition ong>toong> college,

particularly those students without strong concrete

supports at home.

Not Filing a FAFSA Seems ong>toong> Be a

Significant Barrier ong>toong> College Enrollment

for CPS Students

Applying for financial aid is not easy, but it may be ong>theong>

most critical step for low-income students on ong>theong> road

ong>toong> college. It is also one of ong>theong> most confusing steps,

and many CPS students stumble at that point. Our

analysis finds, moreover, that many CPS students may

end up facing higher costs for college because ong>theong>y do

not take ong>theong> steps necessary ong>toong> maximize federal, state,

and institutional support.

There is a growing recognition that ong>theong> complexity

of ong>theong> federal financial aid application creates barriers

for students. 50 The American Council on Education

(ACE) estimates that approximately one in five lowincome

students who are enrolled in college and would

likely be eligible for Pell grants never filed a FAFSA. 51

In addition, ong>theong> report points out that many students,

when ong>theong>y do apply, apply late (after April), which

makes it less likely ong>theong>y would receive federal, state, and

institutional aid. Middle-income and upper-income

students, moreover, were more likely than low-income

students ong>toong> file ong>theong>ir FAFSA before April 1. Even among

students who fill out ong>theong>ir FAFSA, ong>theong> ACE report

Chapter 47


showed that filing a FAFSA later than oong>theong>r students

is a significant barrier ong>toong> students’ ability ong>toong> leverage

financial resources. This is because colleges and states

often award ong>theong>ir aid on a first-come/first-served basis,

and ong>theong>re may not be sufficient aid for students who

apply late. Among college-goers who filed a FAFSA

before April 1, 34 percent of financial aid applicants

received state aid; only 30 percent of those who filed

in April or May and 0 percent of those who filed in

June or later received state aid. Similarly, 41 percent of

pre-April financial aid applicants received institutional

aid; only 7 percent of students who filed in April or

May and only 18 percent of those who filed during or

after ong>theong> month of June received institutional aid.

Not submitting a FAFSA is a significant barrier for

CPS students. Among students who had been accepted

ong>toong> a four-year college, some 84 percent of students who

completed a FAFSA by ong>theong> end of ong>theong> school year attended

a four-year college in ong>theong> fall, compared ong>toong> only

55 percent of students who did not file a FAFSA (see

Figure 19). This strong association holds even after we

control for differences in student characteristics and

support from teachers, counselors, and parents. 5

Students who completed a FAFSA and had been

accepted ong>toong> a four-year college were over 50 percent

Figure 19

students Figure 19. who Students were who accepted were accepted inong>toong> a four-year inong>toong> a four-year college college were

were much much more likely more ong>toong> likely enroll ong>toong> if ong>theong>y enroll completed if ong>theong>y completed ong>theong> FAFSA ong>theong> fafsa

Difference in college enrollment by wheong>theong>r students completed ong>theong>ir

FAFSA among students who were accepted inong>toong> a four-year college:

Completed

FAFSA

Did Not

Complete

FAFSA

0

5

12

10

34

20

55

40

84

Percent Enrolled in a Four-Year College

No College Enrolled in a Two-Year College Enrolled in a Four-Year College

Note: FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) completion rates come from

student responses ong>toong> ong>theong> 2005 CPS Senior Exit Questionnaire. Numbers are based on ong>theong>

ong>Potholesong> Sample (see Appendix B for details).

48 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

60

80

100

more likely ong>toong> enroll than students who had not

completed a FAFSA by spring. Many students who

had been accepted ong>toong> a four-year college but did not

complete a FAFSA (approximately one-third) enrolled

in a two-year college. Indeed, ong>theong> ACE report found

that low-income community college students were

significantly less likely ong>toong> have completed a FAFSA. 53

This means that students who did not complete a

FAFSA, as it appears Marco failed ong>toong> do, may not

have ong>theong> money ong>toong> go ong>toong> a four-year school and instead

enroll in a two-year college. It may also mean that

students, like Jennie, decide that two-year colleges are

more affordable but do not realize that ong>theong>y are still

eligible for financial aid at a two-year college. Only

59 percent of students who ended up enrolling in a

two-year college stated that ong>theong>y had filed a FAFSA

in spring, compared ong>toong> 84 percent of our sample who

attended a four-year college. Only 38 percent of those

who ended up not attending college like Maribel stated

that ong>theong>y had filed a FAFSA, even though ong>theong>y had

aspirations ong>toong> attain a four-year degree. These FAFSA

application rates are most likely overestimates because

ong>theong>y are self-reports on ong>theong> Senior Exit Questionnaire.

Neverong>theong>less, it suggests that students who make early

decisions ong>toong> go ong>toong> a two-year college and who do not

effectively participate in ong>theong> application process do

not make college decisions on ong>theong> basis of comparing

“real” college options. Not surprisingly, Latino students

who aspire ong>toong> attend a four-year degree were ong>theong> least

likely ong>toong> complete a FAFSA, perhaps in part because so

many Latino students made early decisions ong>toong> attend

two-year schools and like many students who enroll

in two-year colleges, do not ong>toong> complete a FAFSA (see

Figure 0).

Completing a FAFSA late and not understanding

ong>theong> potential sources of student aid, moreover,

makes it less likely that students such as Jennie will

understand how much aid ong>theong>y are actually eligible

ong>toong> receive, which may create furong>theong>r barriers ong>toong> fouryear

college enrollment. Indeed, ong>theong> ACE estimates of

nonparticipation in FAFSA probably underestimate

ong>theong> proportion of students who aspire ong>toong> college but

who did not complete ong>theong>ir FAFSA because some

students, such as Maribel, simply decide not ong>toong> go because

of cost. 54 More recent data from CPS confirms


that FAFSA completion, particularly late completion,

is a significant problem for CPS students. In 007,

ong>theong> CPS Department of Postsecondary Education

and Student Development began tracking FAFSA

completion among its seniors based on data provided

by ong>theong> Illinois Student Assistance Commission. As of

late March 007, after ong>theong> financial aid deadlines of

many institutions had passed, only 30 percent of CPS

seniors had completed a FAFSA. However, ong>theong> students

who did complete a FAFSA would have likely qualified

for substantial financial aid if ong>theong>y had submitted

ong>theong>ir FAFSA early. Indeed, more than 50 percent of

CPS students who completed ong>theong>ir FAFSA had zero

Figure 20. 20

Latino Students students Were were Much much More less Likely likely ong>toong> Report ong>toong> report Applying applying ong>toong> ong>toong>

Multiple multiple Colleges colleges and and Applying applying for Financial for financial Aid aid

Percent of students completing multiple applications, submitting ong>theong>

FAFSA, and applying for scholarships by race/ethnicity:

Applied ong>toong>

Six or More

ong>Schoolong>s

Applied ong>toong>

Three or More

ong>Schoolong>s

Applied for a

Scholarship

Completed

FAFSA

0

8

15

16

14

20

47

54

60

55

55

52

64

61

64

72

71

73

40 60

Percent of Students

Latino Asian-American African-American White/Oong>theong>r Ethnic

Note: Number of colleges applied ong>toong>, scholarship application rates, and FAFSA completion

rates come from student responses ong>toong> ong>theong> 2005 CPS Senior Exit Questionnaire. Numbers are

based on ong>theong> ong>Potholesong> Sample (see Appendix B for details).

80

100

expected family contributions and almost 80 percent

were eligible for a Pell Grant. 55 While FAFSA completion

does not guarantee that students will receive

sufficient financial aid, it is a necessary first step that

many CPS students do not take.

For Moises and Grady, filing ong>theong>ir FAFSA was

not something that ong>theong>y did without support. They

attended a school that provided assistance in FAFSA

completion as part of ong>theong>ir support for seniors’ college

planning. The school organizes students ong>toong> apply for

a FAFSA PIN, deadlines were announced regularly,

and students and parents were given structured support

in applying for scholarships and financial aid

(see What a Strong College Culture Looks Like, p. 6 ).

We found that students who were accepted ong>toong> a

four-year college were much more likely ong>toong> enroll if

ong>theong>y attended a high school with a strong college

climate, using our two measures: ong>theong> percentage of

graduates from ong>theong> prior year who enrolled in fouryear

colleges and teacher reports of college climate (see

Figure 1). We also examined an additional measure,

ong>theong> proportion of ong>theong> prior year’s graduates who had

filed ong>theong>ir FAFSA, which was also strongly related ong>toong>

enrollment for students who had been accepted ong>toong> a

four-year college. These three variables suggest that

high school norms, concrete support, and information

are critical ong>toong> college enrollment.

ong>Schoolong> Climate Matters More Than

Parental Press

Most educaong>toong>rs strongly believe that support and press

from parents are central ong>toong> determining wheong>theong>r students

aspire ong>toong> and attend college. But we have not

highlighted ong>theong> role of parents in this chapter, which ong>toong>

some may seem like an important omission that misses

ong>theong> most important determinant of students’ outcomes.

We did not highlight ong>theong> role of parental involvement

in this chapter because we did not find that students’

reports of ong>theong>ir parents’ involvement and press for

college were an important predicong>toong>r of wheong>theong>r ong>theong>y

were able ong>toong> successfully negotiate ong>theong> road ong>toong> college.

Figure compares ong>theong> difference in ong>theong> estimated probability

of taking each step by wheong>theong>r students reported

high versus low levels of parental press—a measure that

Chapter 49


Figure 22. After controlling for students’ qualifications, parental press for

Figure 21

Figure academic 22 achievement made little difference in wheong>theong>r students ong>toong>ok ong>theong>

Figure 21. Students who were accepted inong>toong> a four-year college, particularly

those students with lower who were levels accepted of qualifications, inong>toong> a were four-year much college, more likely ong>toong> enroll after steps ong>toong>

if controlling enroll in college for students’ qualifications, parental press

ong>theong>y particularly attended those schools with lower strong levels college-going of qualifications, cultures

for academic achievement made little difference in wheong>theong>r

were much more likely ong>toong> enroll if ong>theong>y attended schools students ong>toong>ok ong>theong> steps ong>toong> enroll in college

with strong college-going cultures

Likelihood of taking each step for students with strong

versus weak parental press for academic achievement:

Percentage Point Difference in

Predicted Probability

30

25

20

15

10

5

0

-5

Difference in likelihood of enrolling between students in

schools that have strong versus weak college-going cultures:

20

27

All Students

12

Percentage of Prior

Graduates Attending

a Four-Year College

14

Students with Access ong>toong> a Non- or Somewhat Selective College

Students with Access ong>toong> a Selective or Very Selective College

Note: A school with a strong college-going culture is defined as being 1 standard

deviation above ong>theong> mean and a weak school is 1 standard deviation below ong>theong> mean. The

analysis uses ong>theong> ong>Potholesong> Analytic Sample (see Appendix B for details) and adjusts for

student demographic, socioeconomic, and academic characteristics. See Appendix E for

a description of ong>theong> model used in this analysis.

asked students ong>toong> report wheong>theong>r ong>theong>ir parents talked ong>toong>

ong>theong>m about college, pushed ong>theong>m ong>toong> do well in school, and

encouraged ong>theong>m ong>toong> take steps ong>toong> make ong>theong>ir plans happen.

In this analysis, we controlled for student characteristics,

including moong>theong>r’s education.

We find that ong>theong> only step where parental press

did matter was wheong>theong>r students planned ong>toong> attend a

four-year college after graduation. However, we find

no association between students’ reports of parental

press and wheong>theong>r students applied ong>toong>, were accepted

ong>toong>, or enrolled in college. Thus, in a system where

so many children in neighborhood high schools are

first-generation college-goers or have parents educated

outside of ong>theong> United States, parents may have limited

ability—beyond imploring ong>theong>ir children ong>toong> value ong>theong>ir

education and strive for a college degree—ong>toong> support

ong>theong>ir children in managing ong>theong> complex college search

and financial aid processes and in making critical

college decisions. This makes ong>theong>m particularly reliant

24

8

Teachers’

Assessment

of College Climate

16

21

13

Percentage of Prior

Graduates Who

Completed ong>theong> FAFSA

Predicted Probability of Taking Each Step

Towards College Enrollment

50 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

100

80

65

40

20

0

76 80

Planned

(Of Students

Who Aspired)

86 86

Applied

(Of Students

Who Planned)

92 91

Accepted

(Of Students

Who Applied)

Weak Parental Press Strong Parental Press

81 81

Enrolled

(Of Students Who

Were Accepted)

Note: A student with strong levels of parental press is defined as being 1 standard deviation

above ong>theong> mean and a student with weak levels is 1 standard deviation below ong>theong> mean. This

analysis uses ong>theong> ong>Potholesong> Analytic Sample (see Appendix B for details) and adjusts for

student demographic, socioeconomic and academic characteristics. Students are only

included in ong>theong> analysis for a given step if ong>theong>y completed ong>theong> previous step. See Appendix

E for a description of ong>theong> model used in this analysis.

on high schools ong>toong> fill in ong>theong> gaps.

Not surprisingly ong>theong>n, across all our analyses, ong>theong>

single most consistent predicong>toong>r of wheong>theong>r students

ong>toong>ok steps ong>toong>ward college enrollment was wheong>theong>r ong>theong>ir

teachers reported that ong>theong>ir high school had a strong

college climate; that is, ong>theong> teachers and ong>theong>ir colleagues

pushed students ong>toong> go ong>toong> college, worked ong>toong> ensure

that students would be prepared, and were involved in

supporting students in completing ong>theong>ir college applications

(see Figure 3). Indeed, students who attended

high schools in which teachers reported that ong>theong>ir

school had a strong college climate were significantly

more likely ong>toong> plan ong>toong> attend a four-year school, apply,

be accepted and, when accepted, enroll. Importantly,

teachers’ expectations and involvement seemed ong>toong> make

ong>theong> biggest difference for students who have marginal

levels of qualifications for four-year colleges and who

need much more support from adults in managing ong>theong>

college search and application process.


25

24

12 12

13

14

4

8

13

Figure 23. The most consistent school predicong>toong>r of taking steps ong>toong>wards

college enrollment—especially for students with lower academic

Figure 23

qualifications—was wheong>theong>r ong>theong>ir teachers reported that ong>theong>ir school

ong>theong> had a most strong consistent college climate school predicong>toong>r of taking steps

ong>toong>wards college enrollment—especially for students with

lower academic qualifications—was wheong>theong>r ong>theong>ir teachers

reported that ong>theong>ir school had a strong college climate

only looked at students who did not attend selective

enrollment high schools in ong>theong> city. These results are

not, ong>theong>n, being driven by ong>theong> college-oriented community

of selective enrollment schools. The role of

selective enrollment schools and specialized programs,

30

25

Difference between students in schools that

have strong versus weak college climate:

such as ong>theong> International Baccalaureate program, is

also a critical part of ong>theong> overall performance of CPS

as a system. This will be ong>theong> ong>toong>pic of our forthcoming

20

research brief.

The challenge for CPS is ong>toong> create ong>theong>se environ-

15

10

12

16

ments in neighborhood high schools. The high

aspirations of students and ong>theong>ir parents mean that

5

0

4

more students aspire ong>toong> attend college than can get inong>toong>

selective enrollment high schools. What is clear from

this analysis is that ong>theong>se students and ong>theong>ir parents

Planned Applied Accepted Enrolled heavily depend on ong>theong>ir high schools ong>toong> meet ong>theong>ir

-5

(Of Students

Who Aspired)

(Of Students

Who Planned)

(Of Students

Who Applied)

(Of Students Who

Were Accepted) postsecondary goals. Students’ opportunities will be

All Students

Students with Access ong>toong> a Non- or Somewhat Selective College

shaped by ong>theong> extent ong>toong> which teachers, counselors,

and schools are organized around and dedicated ong>toong> ong>theong>

Students with Access ong>toong> a Selective or Very Selective College goal of creating environments with high expectations

Note: A school with a strong college climate is defined as being 1 standard deviation above and structured support. In fact, ong>theong>se school influences

ong>theong> mean and a weak school is 1 standard deviation below ong>theong> mean. The analysis uses ong>theong>

ong>Potholesong> Analytic Sample (see Appendix B for details) and adjusts for student demographic,

socioeconomic, and academic characteristics. Students are only included in ong>theong> analysis for

a given step if ong>theong>y completed ong>theong> previous step. See Appendix E for a description of ong>theong>

model used in this analysis.

appear ong>toong> have ong>theong> biggest impact on students with

more moderate qualifications—those who would

be unlikely ong>toong> have had ong>theong> opportunity ong>toong> attend a

selective enrollment high school.

Percentage Point Difference in

Predicted Probability

In our last report, we documented that high college

enrollment rates in selective enrollment high schools

were largely responsible for pushing up ong>theong> system

average ong>toong> above 50 percent. More than 70 percent of

high schools had college enrollment rates below ong>theong>

system average. It is easy ong>toong> understand why certain

high schools have ong>theong> highest college attendance rates.

Selective enrollment high schools are specifically designed

ong>toong> encourage students ong>toong> attend college, and

we would expect ong>theong>m ong>toong> have strong college-going

cultures. These schools can create college-oriented

environments, in large part, because students are selected

based on ong>theong>ir academic qualifications and ong>theong>ir

willingness ong>toong> work hard in challenging courses. They

and ong>theong>ir families already have resources that allowed

ong>theong>m ong>toong> enroll in selective enrollment schools—ong>theong>

same resources that would likely help ong>theong>m fulfill

ong>theong>ir college ambitions. As we noted at ong>theong> beginning

of this chapter, ong>theong> analyses conducted in this chapter

Forthcoming Research Brief:

Selective Enrollment ong>Schoolong>s and

International Baccalaureate Program

This report raises important questions about ong>theong>

potholes faced by ong>theong> school system’s best-prepared

students on ong>theong> road ong>toong> college. The role of selective

enrollment schools and specialized programs, such

as ong>theong> International Baccalaureate program, is also

a critical part of ong>theong> overall performance of CPS as

a system and will be ong>theong> ong>toong>pic of our forthcoming

research brief.

Chapter 51


5 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College


Case Studies

Here, we present case studies from our qualitative study, each of which high-

lights a student who struggled at a different point in ong>theong> postsecondary planning

process. These case studies draw on our longitudinal, qualitative study of 105

CPS students in three high schools. They are based on five student interviews

conducted between spring of ong>theong>se students’ junior year of high school (March

2005) and ong>theong>ir graduation ong>theong> following year (June 2006) and represent common

ong>theong>mes that emerged from our qualitative work. For more information on how

ong>theong> qualitative study was conducted, see Appendix B: Data Used in this Report.

For more detailed information on ong>theong> high schools highlighted in ong>theong>se case

studies, see What a Strong College Culture Looks Like: An Analysis of ong>theong> Three

ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong>s in our Qualitative Longitudinal Study, p. 62.

In reading ong>theong>se case studies, ong>theong>re are a few important points ong>toong> keep in mind.

First, in order ong>toong> preserve ong>theong> anonymity of students and schools that participated

in ong>theong> qualitative study, all names of students and high schools in this report

are pseudonyms. Second, though we usually include specific names of colleges

that students in our study chose ong>toong> attend or considered attending, in some cases,

revealing a student’s college choice would compromise his or her anonymity;

college names are kept confidential in ong>theong>se cases. Finally, since financial aid

clearly plays an important role in ong>theong>se students’ college choices, we have provided

students’ descriptions of how ong>theong>y attempted ong>toong> leverage financial aid, even when

ong>theong>y seemed very confused about ong>theong> process. It is important ong>toong> remember that

all this information is solely based on student reports and might not reflect ong>theong>

actual aid package offered ong>toong> a student by his or her prospective college.

Chapter 1 57


Maribel–A Case Study

Working hard ong>toong> what end?

Why would a student who loves learning and who aspires ong>toong> complete a college degree decide not ong>toong> attend

college at all? Maribel illustrates many of ong>theong> ong>theong>mes we observed in our interviews with students in our

longitudinal study who decided not ong>toong> attend college.

M aribel,1 a hardworking Mexican-American

student, immigrated ong>toong> America in grammar

school. She loved learning and cared deeply about her

performance in her classes. During her academic career

at Ellison ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong>, Maribel learned how ong>toong> ask for

help, manage a busy schedule, advocate for herself, and

prioritize school above all else—all qualities that would

make her a successful college student. Despite working

at a fast-food restaurant 30 hours a week, Maribel

typically spent more than three hours every night finishing

her homework and earned ong>theong> qualifications ong>toong>

attend a somewhat selective college. In her junior year,

Maribel’s English teacher commented:

“She is an EXTREMELY hardworking student. She

struggles with her language skills both verbally and

in her writing—but she is resilient. Though she is

behind academically, I believe she could be capable

of making ong>theong> jump from going ong>toong> a two-year college

ong>toong> a four-year college. A brief song>toong>ry about her: An

[Illinois political figure] was [at an event] not ong>toong>o long

ago. She went up ong>toong> him, introduced herself, and ong>toong>ld

him she needed a job. He ong>toong>ok her phone number

and someone in his office contacted her. This song>toong>ry

exemplifies ong>theong> kind of determination she has!”

Maribel’s goal was ong>toong> be ong>theong> first in her family ong>toong>

graduate from college. Her broong>theong>rs had struggled in

school. Although her parents supported ong>theong> idea of

college, ong>theong>y were not actively engaged in ong>theong> college

search and application process. She said she talked ong>toong>

her family about her plans: “They say that if I go I will

stay [in college]. Not like my broong>theong>r. He went and after

one semester left.”

54 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

Junior Year: Thinking About College, Worrying About

ong>theong> ACT

Like many students, Maribel struggled ong>toong> understand

ong>theong> process by which students search for, apply ong>toong>, and

enroll in college. Yet, unlike many students, she was

keenly aware of ong>theong> importance of performing well in

high school. She observed: “It’s important ong>toong> learn more

in high school, so that you can prepare more for college.”

Her academic preparation for college went beyond her

coursework; she participated in a program that allowed

her ong>toong> earn college credit by taking a class in business

administration at Northwestern Business College.

Maribel was very worried about ong>theong> ACT. She borrowed

an ACT prep book from ong>theong> library and ong>toong>ok

an ACT prep class on Saturdays.

“We ong>toong>ok a pretest and I got a 13. Oh my God, I was

feeling horrible, but I know I can try and get at least

an 18 or 19. I’m praying and studying more.”

Unfortunately, Maribel’s prayers weren’t answered;

she scored 15 on ong>theong> ACT. She received a higher score of

18 on ong>theong> science subtest, but she was still devastated by

her overall performance. She was intent on improving

and, attributing her higher science score ong>toong> intensive

test preparation, she planned ong>toong> study ong>theong> ACT book

all summer:

“I was expecting more but when I got ong>theong> results . . .

I feel like crying. The reading was hard. Oh my God,

ong>theong> reading was hard and boring. [For science] . . .

that book said, ‘Read ong>theong> table first, ong>theong>n go ong>toong> ong>theong>

question, ong>theong>n read ong>theong> passage.’ So I did that and

science was my highest.”


Maribel stated that her main goal for senior year was

ong>toong> get good grades “so I can go ong>toong> a good college . . . and

get an 18 on my ACT.”

summer: Working and Exploring ong>theong> City

By ong>theong> end of ong>theong> summer, Maribel looked ready ong>toong>

return ong>toong> school and accomplish her goals. She had

a productive summer, working full time at O’Hare

Airport. She also spent two weeks visiting Chicago

museums as part of a cultural program at her school.

This program gave her ong>theong> downong>toong>wn experience and

cultural exposure she craved.

senior Year: Releasing Her Dream

Suddenly, when Maribel returned ong>toong> school in ong>theong> fall,

she song>toong>pped talking about her college dream, though she

remained committed ong>toong> her schoolwork. She performed

well in her classes, and she brought up her weighted

GPA from a .96 ong>toong> a 3.18. Despite this investment

in school, she announced that she didn’t want ong>toong> go

straight ong>toong> college: “I’m going ong>toong> wait one year ong>toong> have

my money, ’cause I don’t want ong>toong> work and go ong>toong> college at

ong>theong> same time ’cause it’s ong>toong>o hard.” She decided ong>toong> work

in a downong>toong>wn office ong>toong> make money for college.

It’s hard ong>toong> understand why Maribel decided ong>toong> give

up on ong>theong> idea of college, but her decision may have

been shaped by several facong>toong>rs—including some of ong>theong>

same facong>toong>rs that we found influenced many of her peers

ong>toong> attend a two-year school. First, her performance on

ong>theong> ACT made her doubt her ability ong>toong> gain access ong>toong>

college at all. She felt that her ACT scores made her

ineligible for college, and she didn’t realize that, given

her high grades, colleges might overlook her low ACT

score.

Also, several of her teachers seemed ong>toong> support

her decision ong>toong> delay college. While she never talked

ong>toong> a counselor, she did talk ong>toong> her shop and French

teachers:

“I talked ong>toong> my teachers and ong>theong>y ong>toong>ld me just wait a

little bit ’cause after high school . . . ong>theong> colleges are

getting crowds of all ong>theong> students. So you just wait

some ong>toong> gain more money.”

Finally, Maribel simply didn’t know how ong>toong> pay for

college. She knew she could get a job, given her work

experience in high school, but she felt that working full

time and going ong>toong> school would be ong>toong>o much. She never

talked ong>toong> anyone about financial aid options, and she

couldn’t answer any questions about applying for aid

or filling out a FAFSA. While ong>theong> whole postsecondary

process—how ong>toong> apply, knowing her college options,

and applying for financial aid—overwhelmed Maribel,

it was her wariness about ong>theong> cost of college that sealed

her decision. She explained:

“I went ong>toong> this field trip at Wright College . . . a college fair.

So I met one of ong>theong> teachers from Wright College and he

gave me a sample like how much it cost, ong>theong> application

and all this stuff. Then [my parents say], ‘Well, we’re

not having enough money for your college.’”

At least one teacher tried ong>toong> persuade her ong>toong> go ong>toong>

college, but ong>toong> no avail:

“They tell me, ‘Do not work, just go ong>toong> college,’ like

get a lot of student loans. But I don’t want student

loans. I will pay ong>theong>m my whole life . . . [it costs]

$3,000 a semester for Wright College.”

Despite this decision, Maribel worked hard all year

in her classes. She loved her hisong>toong>ry class, for which

she wrote papers on immigration issues and completed

a PowerPoint presentation on Latin American

gangs in ong>theong> United States. She ong>toong>ok anoong>theong>r course at

Northwestern Business College for college credit and

completed her senior research paper for her English

class, all while working nearly 30 hours a week.

Maribel’s English teacher described her as:

“The quintessential sweeong>theong>art . . . who tries really

hard ong>toong> be perfect and correct. She wants very much

ong>toong> succeed.”

Maribel left high school not yet having a downong>toong>wn

job but with plans ong>toong> save up her money, eventually

enroll in Wright College, and hopefully transfer ong>toong> a

four-year college.

Chapter 55


Jennie–A Case Study

Paralyzed by ong>theong> fear of choosing ong>theong> wrong college

Why do some students take ong>theong>mselves out of ong>theong> four-year college planning process? Does this only happen

ong>toong> students with low grades and test scores? Jennie, a student with strong qualifications for college, shows

some common features of college aspirants who made an early decision ong>toong> attend a two-year college.

Making ong>theong> right choices about college can seem

like a terribly risky venture, even for very smart

young people. Jennie, 1 a Chicago-born Latina, is an

extremely bright, hardworking student who completed

a rigorous IB program at Silverstein ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong>.

She was a candidate for 1 -year perfect attendance,

maintained a cumulative weighted GPA of 3.84, and

scored 1 on ong>theong> ACT. Jennie was also involved in

cheerleading, drama, science club, debate team, and

ong>theong> National Honor Society. She was thinking about

majoring in ong>theong>ater in college, but she also considered

law. She seemed a little embarrassed by her career

preference, saying, “This may sound stupid, but I want

ong>toong> go inong>toong> acting.”

Jennie lived with her moong>theong>r, faong>theong>r, and older

broong>theong>r. Although her parents never attended college,

her older broong>theong>r attended a local community college,

and several members of her extended family had some

college experience. Her parents supported her college

goals and consistently pushed her ong>toong> attend a four-year

college.

Junior Year: searching for ong>theong> Right path

Managing ong>theong> college search process left Jennie feeling

overwhelmed and confused. The whole process

seemed risky and stressful. She worried incessantly

about college costs and feared she would waste her

family’s money if she ended up in ong>theong> wrong college.

Like many students, she was also convinced she needed

ong>toong> decide on a career before she could make a college

list. These two ideas contributed greatly ong>toong> her stress

in searching for ong>theong> right college:

“That’s pretty much how you’re spending ong>theong> rest of

your life . . . so I find it’s a pretty big decision.”

56 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

Jennie experienced “sticker shock” when she considered

ong>theong> costs of four-year colleges. Her faong>theong>r was

paying for her broong>theong>r ong>toong> attend a community college,

and Jennie knew that those costs would pale in

comparison ong>toong> ong>theong> costs of ong>theong> four-year schools she

considered attending. She feared furong>theong>r burdening

her family financially:

“They are only paying because it’s a good community

college. It’s only $6,000 a year . . . compared ong>toong>

some of ong>theong> oong>theong>r colleges, that’s nothing.”

Jennie also seemed ong>toong> lack any broad understanding

of ong>theong> kinds of colleges ong>toong> which she could apply. The

only college she mentioned was Columbia College

(in Chicago, a nonselective four-year school), because

she had seen a presentation by college representatives

at her high school and learned that Columbia had a

fine arts program. Jennie wasn’t talking ong>toong> anyone at

her school about ong>theong> search process, although she said

her counselors stressed ong>theong> importance of ong>theong> ACT.

The science club visited ong>theong> University of Illinois at

Urbana-Champaign, but Jennie said she didn’t like

ong>theong> campus.

Fall senior Year: Overwhelming Confusion and Anxiety

In her senior year, Jennie’s college search never really

got off ong>theong> ground. Her college application activities

were unfocused and disorganized, which left her feeling

incredibly anxious. Jennie gaong>theong>red some college

information on her own. She attended her school’s

mandaong>toong>ry college fair and received some emails from

colleges, but she lacked any guidance on how ong>toong> structure

an organized search for four-year colleges. She

talked often with family members about ong>theong> strengths


and weaknesses of various community colleges in ong>theong>

area, even as ong>theong>y were discouraging her from attending

a two-year school. She relied largely on ong>theong> Internet

for information, and she became interested in DePaul

University after learning about its ong>theong>ater program on

a website. She thought DePaul was a good fit because

she could fall back on oong>theong>r majors if drama didn’t

work out. Jennie seemed paralyzed in searching for

schools, and by fall of senior year she reported that she

had not talked ong>toong> a single teacher or counselor about

her plans.

“I have no idea. I want ong>toong> go ong>toong> college, but I’m at ong>theong>

point [where] I don’t know what I want ong>toong> be. I don’t

know what I want ong>toong> do.”

Winter senior Year: Finding a Low-Risk solution

Jennie did apply ong>toong> DePaul, but she decided early in ong>theong>

winter of her senior year that it would be best ong>toong> start

off at Moraine Valley Community College. The sudden

decision ong>toong> go ong>toong> a two-year school was a fairly common

phenomenon, especially for students at Silverstein,

even for students with strong college qualifications

like Jennie’s (see A Qualitative Look at Students Who

Became “Early Two-Year” College-Goers, p. 39). Jennie

just didn’t know what ong>toong> do with her life:

“Figuring out what I want ong>toong> do, that’s my problem

. . . I might as well just go ong>toong> a community college

. . . Everyone kept telling me, ‘You don’t have ong>toong>

worry ong>theong> first two years about what you want ong>toong> do,

because it’s all ong>theong> same [classes].’ I just have ong>toong>

make sure ong>theong> credits will transfer.”

Jennie’s family was unhappy with her decision ong>toong>

attend a two-year college:

“[My mom and broong>theong>r] say that I worked ong>toong>o hard

ong>theong>se four years with IB, and I can do better than that.

But I don’t know. I say, I’m saving ong>theong>m money.”

spring senior Year: sticking with Her plan

Jennie’s faong>theong>r was paying for his older son ong>toong> go ong>toong>

community college, and Jennie was insistent that she

not take out any student loans. She ultimately was

accepted ong>toong> DePaul, but she completely ruled out that

idea when she saw her financial aid package included

$10,000 in loans. 6 Her faong>theong>r finally relented: “My dad

didn’t want ong>toong> do any of ong>theong> loans.” It is unclear wheong>theong>r

Jennie ever filled out her FAFSA. Her acceptance letter

from Moraine Valley asked her ong>toong> complete a financial

aid application, but she still couldn’t answer questions

about financial aid. She couldn’t say for sure wheong>theong>r

or not she had filled out a FAFSA, and she couldn’t

describe what ong>theong> process entailed.

At ong>theong> end of senior year, Jennie admitted that her

college application process could have been better

guided and executed. She said part of ong>theong> problem

was that she was pushed by her teachers ong>toong> complete

her highly challenging culminating projects for her

IB coursework, but nobody at school pushed her ong>toong>

complete her college applications. In fact, Jennie never

spoke one-on-one with a teacher or counselor about

her college plans:

“I needed ong>toong> be pushed more. In ong>theong> IB program,

with all ong>theong> homework and everything else, I was

more focused on that than trying ong>toong> apply for college.

[Applying ong>toong> colleges] would be on my weekends if I

had time.”

By ong>theong> end of her senior year, Jennie wasn’t sure she

had made ong>theong> right choice ong>toong> attend Moraine Valley, but

at least it was a choice that didn’t seem risky. By ong>theong> fall

after graduation, Jennie was enrolled at Moraine Valley,

though she was worried she might have ong>toong> transfer ong>toong>

one of ong>theong> City Colleges of Chicago due ong>toong> cost. Even

though she said that college was easier than high school,

Jennie said she was enjoying her classes, professors, and

college experience at Moraine Valley.

Chapter 57


Sabrina–A Case Study

The easy road doesn’t always lead where you want it ong>toong>

What happens ong>toong> students who leave high school with a clear plan for attending college but never enroll in ong>theong>

fall? Sabrina, a highly qualified student, shows how becoming ong>toong>o focused on one college option can pose a

problem over ong>theong> summer.

When faced with ong>theong> daunting task of applying

ong>toong> very selective colleges, even ong>theong> most highly

qualified students can stumble. Sabrina, 1 an African-

American student with a kind and easygoing nature,

had her pick of colleges across ong>theong> country. She graduated

from Kahlo ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> with a 5 on ong>theong> ACT

and a weighted GPA of 3.77. Sabrina always chose ong>theong>

most challenging courses, while also working 30 hours

a week. She planned ong>toong> attend college and pushed

herself academically.

Junior Year: schoolwork and Grand plans

In her junior year, Sabrina was thinking strategically

about how ong>toong> impress colleges. She focused on her ACT

scores and her classes, and she planned a rigorous course

schedule for senior year. She was disappointed with her

ACT score of 5 because she was shooting for a 7 or

8. She considered retaking ong>theong> test but worried about

a lower score. Although she described several courses

as easy, Sabrina was engaged in her classes, particularly

algebra/trigonometry and honors British literature. She

loved learning how ong>toong> improve her writing:

“[The teacher] gives us essays, maybe one or two

a week, so you keep writing essays, and she keeps

correcting ong>theong>m. By ong>theong> end of ong>theong> year, I really think

I’ll be prepared for college.”

Despite earning such high grades, Sabrina always felt

she needed ong>toong> work harder. She admitted she worked

harder in more challenging classes and craved ong>theong>

rigor of AP courses. She knew that AP courses would

give her an advantage in ong>theong> college admissions

process and help her earn college credit: “I feel that

it’s steering me ong>toong>wards college. When I go inong>toong> college

58 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

next year with all those AP classes, I think I’ll start off

a semester ahead.”

Sabrina lived with her mom and sisters, who fully

supported her college plans. Her older sister helped her

select colleges and pushed her ong>toong> complete applications

on time. Her moong>theong>r was equally involved in ong>theong> process.

Sabrina knew she was qualified ong>toong> attend almost any

college in ong>theong> country and never limited her search.

She described her ideal college as one with a large campus,

and she preferred ong>toong> attend college with a friend.

However, Sabrina wanted ong>toong> keep her options open.

Sabrina’s older sister had graduated from ong>theong> University

of Illinois, and Sabrina expressed some interest in that

school. But because Sabrina wanted ong>toong> expand her horizons,

she did not rule out leaving ong>theong> Midwest. Both she

and her moong>theong>r felt it was an important part of ong>theong> college

experience ong>toong> leave home for a new and independent

experience. By ong>theong> end of junior year, Sabrina planned

ong>toong> apply ong>toong> three Illinois schools, along with New York

University, Duke, ong>theong> University of California–Berkeley,

and Yale, “ just ong>toong> see if I can get in.”

Fall senior Year: New Direction for an Exciting search

Sabrina’s college search changed in a significant way

when her school nominated her for a prestigious

four-year, full-tuition scholarship for urban students.

The scholarship, which sends students ong>toong> some of ong>theong>

nation’s most esteemed colleges, also provides an extensive

pre-college preparation and leadership training

program. For Sabrina, this meant a new direction for

her college search—a new list of prestigious schools ong>toong>

consider and ong>theong> possibility of a free education.

As she moved on ong>toong> ong>theong> second round of interviews

for ong>theong> scholarship, Sabrina focused on ong>theong> schools

she could attend with ong>theong> scholarship. Her favorite


was Pomona College in California. Over ong>theong> summer,

she visited a friend who was attending Pomona on ong>theong>

same scholarship and fell in love with ong>theong> campus. Still,

she had not ruled out applying ong>toong> Duke and Yale.

Sabrina’s life changed in anoong>theong>r significant way

when she got a new job that required her ong>toong> work six

days per week and commute up ong>toong> two hours each

way, leaving little time for her schoolwork. Her intense

workload may have stemmed from needing ong>toong> feel

financially independent from her family. A teacher

commented that Sabrina may have felt obligated ong>toong>

assume “emotional and physical responsibilities at

home,” causing Sabrina ong>toong> choose ong>toong> work long hours

at her job and ong>theong>reby escape those responsibilities.

Sabrina embraced ong>theong> challenge of her rigorous coursework,

but faced incredible pressure balancing work

and school demands. Sabrina’s college applications

seemed ong>toong> suffer ong>theong> most:

“When I get home, it’s like 12 or 1 in ong>theong> morning

and I’m not thinking about my college applications.

I’m thinking, ‘Oh, I got ong>toong> go ong>toong> school ong>toong>morrow,

let me do some homework.’ And ong>theong>n do it all over

again ong>theong> next day.”

By early November, Sabrina had gaong>theong>red applications.

She was thinking about her essays, but she hadn’t

started working on ong>theong>m. It is unclear how much she

utilized her counselor; Sabrina’s opinion about her

helpfulness changed across interviews. Moreover, it

seemed she had no adult ally ong>toong> assist her in navigating

ong>theong> college search process. She worried about finding

time ong>toong> get all ong>theong> essays done, and she wondered how

she would respond ong>toong> some of ong>theong> less traditional essay

prompts: “One essay is like, ‘If you were a color, what color

would you be?’ What if I said ong>theong> wrong color? What if I

chose gray, and [ong>theong> college] thought, ‘Oh, that’s bad.’”

Sabrina pinned all her hopes on ong>theong> scholarship,

which would mean no more agonizing about applications

and college costs. She would only have ong>toong> complete

one application, ong>toong> Pomona, where she would have

auong>toong>matic admission and full financial aid ong>toong> a school

she knew she’d like. Sabrina put off working on oong>theong>r

applications and waited for news of ong>theong> scholarship,

which she expected in mid-December.

Winter senior Year: Crushing News, Grabbing a Lifeline

Sabrina didn’t receive ong>theong> scholarship, leaving her no

fallback options for college. While trying ong>toong> work

nearly full time and succeed in rigorous courses,

Sabrina’s long list of schools disappeared. She ong>theong>n

scrambled ong>toong> find time ong>toong> complete a few applications

ong>toong> state schools. Ultimately, Sabrina was unable ong>toong>

balance her class assignments, college applications,

and work schedule:

“I’m being lazy. I just keep seeing those essays.

I’m like, OK, I’m gonna get back ong>toong> that! And ong>theong>n . . .

I just feel like I don’t have enough time in ong>theong> day.”

By February, Sabrina had stumbled inong>toong> a new

plan. A liberal arts school in Florida sent her a letter of

acceptance and offered her a full-tuition scholarship,

and Sabrina jumped at ong>theong> opportunity. 5 The university

was an attractive option, since it did not require an

application fee, essay, or recommendations. Sabrina

used ong>theong> Internet ong>toong> “ong>toong>ur” ong>theong> campus and “watch” a

class, but she never visited ong>theong> school. She talked about

completing oong>theong>r applications, but never followed

through. Sabrina had a new college lifeline, and so she

focused exclusively on this plan.

spring senior Year: All Her Eggs in One Basket

Sabrina had been accepted with a full scholarship ong>toong>

ong>theong> Florida school without applying. 7 She finally filled

out her FAFSA in ong>theong> spring because it was required

for her scholarship. She also applied for several scholarships

late in ong>theong> year, but she was counting on ong>theong>

university’s scholarship.

Unfortunately, in ong>theong> months after graduation, ong>theong>

school rescinded her scholarship, ostensibly because

she received a D in her journalism elective her final

semester. Sabrina had applied ong>toong> no oong>theong>r colleges and

never seriously pursued oong>theong>r financial aid. She was out

of options. In ong>theong> fall after graduation, Sabrina began

a new retail job downong>toong>wn and it appeared she had no

furong>theong>r plans ong>toong> attend college ong>theong> next year.

Chapter 59


Marco–A Case Study

How students get lost over ong>theong> summer

What happens ong>toong> students who leave high school with a clear plan for attending college but never enroll in ong>theong>

fall? Marco demonstrates that even students with stellar college qualifications and a strong drive ong>toong> complete

a thorough college planning process are at risk of ong>theong>ir plans falling through over ong>theong> summer.

M arco1 is an intelligent young man who completed

ong>theong> IB program at Ellison ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong>. A firstgeneration

Mexican-American student, he was among

ong>theong> ong>toong>p five students in his class with a weighted GPA

of 4.05 and a 5 on ong>theong> ACT. Marco participated in a

prestigious citywide fellowship that allowed students

ong>toong> travel ong>toong> different states ong>toong> develop new ideas for

leadership programs in ong>theong> Chicago Public ong>Schoolong>s.

Marco easily earned ong>theong> respect of his teachers. His

English teacher described him as:

“. . . an exceptional young man. I am confident

he is motivated enough ong>toong> be successful in all his

endeavors. While working with him for two years,

I have found him ong>toong> be one of ong>theong> most considerate

and genuinely kind people I have met.”

Junior Year: Great Ambition

Marco’s ambition ong>toong> attend college never flagged, from

ong>theong> first interview ong>toong> ong>theong> last. He wanted ong>toong> study engineering,

and he planned ong>toong> apply ong>toong> Purdue University,

Northwestern University, ong>theong> University of Chicago,

ong>theong> University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and

ong>theong> University of Illinois at Chicago. Marco was so

committed ong>toong> getting a college degree that he was

willing ong>toong> attend college in Mexico if he couldn’t get

enough financial aid ong>toong> attend college in ong>theong> United

States.

Marco was a highly engaged student who always

felt challenged and supported by his IB teachers. He

also felt ong>theong>y gave him good guidance about his future.

He made his college list by asking his teachers about

ong>theong> best area schools for engineering, and he ong>theong>n confirmed

ong>theong>ir advice with his own Internet research.

60 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

Marco set high expectations for his senior year: He

wanted ong>toong> achieve a 7 on ong>theong> ACT, finish his college

applications by fall, and receive an IB diploma—ong>theong>

equivalent of one year’s worth of coursework at most

colleges and a rare feat for students at Ellison. Though

Marco’s ACT score was ong>theong> highest in his school, he

was dissatisfied and planned ong>toong> take ong>theong> test again. Like

many IB students, Marco was worried about ong>theong> volume

of work he faced in ong>theong> fall. The IB program requires

students ong>toong> complete a body of work throughout senior

year, including written projects, oral presentations,

and culminating exams. For this reason, Marco

planned ong>toong> complete his college applications over ong>theong>

summer and submit ong>theong>m as soon as colleges started

taking applications, which he expected was in early fall.

He detailed this strategy: “I should get all my acceptance

letters or rejection letters by Ocong>toong>ber or November, so I

can spend ong>theong> rest of ong>theong> year just looking for scholarships

and financial aid.”

Fall senior Year: Executing ong>theong> plan

At ong>theong> start of senior year, Marco was working diligently

on his college applications and nearly done with several

that he planned ong>toong> submit ong>toong> meet a November 1 priority

admission deadline. Though he was less certain

about his plans ong>toong> study engineering than he had been

ong>theong> year before, his first choice was now Georgia Tech,

which he had heard about from a coworker. Marco

thoroughly researched each college with visits or calls

ong>toong> admissions staff. He knew what he liked about each

school, as well as ong>theong> qualifications for admission.

Marco’s moong>theong>r was very proud of her high-achieving

son and excited about his plans ong>toong> become an engineer.

Marco said his mom would worry if he went ong>toong> college


out-of-state, but she would support him: “She knows I’m

going ong>toong> do fine at school.” When asked about support

at school, Marco again said that he frequently talked

about college with his teachers: “They guide me ong>toong>ward

ong>theong> school that’s going ong>toong> be best for me.” However, Marco

hadn’t spoken ong>toong> a counselor; in fact, he didn’t know

who his counselor was.

Winter senior Year: Losing steam

In winter of senior year, Marco was on track with his

college applications but uncertain about his major and

career. He became interested in medicine because a few

friends at work were in medical school. He thought

he would like that kind of major and career. Marco

submitted applications ong>toong> five Midwestern schools,

ultimately deciding that Georgia Tech and Texas

A&M were ong>toong>o far away.

Marco encountered two barriers ong>toong> his college plans

during winter of his senior year. First, he felt he had

ong>toong> focus almost exclusively on his IB coursework and

exams. Second, he had a very hard time figuring out

what ong>toong> do about financial aid. He had looked at ong>theong>

FAFSA but had yet ong>toong> fill it out as of February, explaining

that he felt very confused about how ong>toong> organize

both his and his parents’ taxes. Marco was diligently

saving money from his part-time job and seeking

independent scholarships. He said his college selection

would be determined by cost, but he still was not sure

about his ong>toong>p choice.

spring senior Year: A school Out of Nowhere

By ong>theong> end of senior year, Marco had decided ong>toong> attend

ong>theong> Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), one of ong>theong>

best-rated engineering schools in ong>theong> state. This was ong>theong>

first time he had mentioned ong>theong> school, which “popped

out of nowhere and gave me a full ride.” He planned ong>toong>

study eiong>theong>r computer or aeronautical engineering.

Marco also was accepted ong>toong> Loyola, DePaul, UIC,

and ong>theong> University of Illinois. Northwestern’s initial

acceptance was rescinded based on his first-semester

grades, which Marco said was not a big deal because

Northwestern was out of his price range. Marco

said IIT offered him ong>theong> best aid package of all his

schools: “IIT was giving me $32,000. I just needed

8 or 12 more, so I’m getting that from FAFSA or [a] student

loan.” 8 However, he also mentioned that he was

“still working” on his FAFSA. Marco hadn’t ruled out

attending Wright City College for two years and ong>theong>n

transferring ong>toong> a four-year college.

After senior Year: Not Taking ong>theong> Risk

Marco never enrolled in IIT. Instead, he decided ong>toong>

attend Wright and hoped ong>toong> transfer ong>toong> Northwestern

after two years. Marco explained that he did not want

ong>toong> attend an engineering-focused school because he

was uncertain about studying engineering. 9 When

contacted in ong>theong> fall, Marco had song>toong>pped attending

classes at Wright because it “didn’t feel like college.”

He decided ong>toong> take a year off and reevaluate his plans

for college, hoping ong>toong> enroll in a four-year college ong>theong>

following fall.

It’s hard ong>toong> understand why such a bright and

enterprising young man would decline a full-tuition

scholarship at a competitive four-year college ong>toong> attend

a community college. Yet, in retrospect, a few things

stand out from his interviews. First, like many firstgeneration

college-goers in ong>theong> study, his college choice

was intractably linked ong>toong> his career interests. When he

became uncertain about his career interests, he became

convinced his college choice no longer made sense.

Second, while he was offered scholarship money from

IIT, he did not appear ong>toong> have adequately completed

his FAFSA and oong>theong>r financial aid paperwork, which

might have jeopardized his scholarship or left him in

a position of not being able ong>toong> cover all of ong>theong> expenses

of a college education.

Finally, while he counted on his teachers for support

and information, Marco appeared never ong>toong> have had an

extended conversation with any adult about his college

plans. He never discussed with a supportive, knowledgeable

adult his confusion about certain aspects of

postsecondary education—how college majors relate ong>toong>

career choices, how ong>toong> fill out a FAFSA, and possible

classroom differences between four-year and two-year

colleges. For many students, having ong>toong> choose one

college out of a field of thousands feels ong>toong>o risky. For

Marco, facing ong>theong>se three obstacles in combination left

him unable ong>toong> make any choice at all.

Chapter 61


What a Strong College Culture Looks Like: An Analysis of ong>theong> Three ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong>s in

our Qualitative Longitudinal Study

Throughout this report, we refer ong>toong> various measures of

college-going culture. But what does it mean for high

schools ong>toong> have a strong college-going culture? What

does it look like ong>toong> be high or low on ong>theong>se measures?

The three high schools attended by students in ong>theong>

qualitative study provide examples of ong>theong> elements of

college-going culture found throughout this report

ong>toong> be important in shaping students’ postsecondary

decisions. 1 First, we examine ong>theong>se characteristics

quantitatively by looking at survey measures for each

school, and ong>theong>n we pair ong>theong> results with qualitative

data from student interviews ong>toong> achieve a more detailed

picture of students’ experiences in schools considered

“high” or “low” on ong>theong>se measures.

Three high schools participated in our longitudinal

study. The schools were selected because ong>theong>y had

college-going rates that were slightly higher than ong>theong>

system average. The schools differed by location,

size, and ong>theong> racial/ethnic make-up of ong>theong>ir student

bodies, but ong>theong>y were similar in that each served a

predominantly minority student body and each had

recently established an International Baccalaureate

(IB) program. These schools were not ong>theong> worst-

performing schools in ong>theong> city; nor did ong>theong>y include

any of Chicago’s high-performing selective enrollment

schools. 10 Raong>theong>r, ong>theong>y could be described as

being “at ong>theong> margin” of high school reform, serving

students with slightly better-than-average incoming

achievement, providing access ong>toong> AP and IB courses,

and producing graduates who make a diverse set of

postsecondary choices.

This report identifies different points at which students

encounter “potholes” on ong>theong> road ong>toong> college and

ong>theong>n examines various student-level and school-level

characteristics that help students avoid those potholes

and stay on ong>theong> road ong>toong> college. Two groups of schoollevel

characteristics stand out as consistently important:

(1) ong>theong> extent ong>toong> which schools have a strong collegegoing

culture (as measured by ong>theong> percent of prior

graduates attending college and teachers’ impressions of

college climate 11), and ( ) ong>theong> extent ong>toong> which schools

are organized around postsecondary planning (as

6 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

measured by percent of prior graduates who completed

a FAFSA and applied ong>toong> three or more schools). Here,

we consider how each school scored on ong>theong>se measures,

as well as students’ qualitative reports of ong>theong> supports

ong>theong>y received for postsecondary planning.

Frida Kahlo ong>Highong> school: Individual, Intentional support

Figures throughout this report compare students’ outcomes

at schools considered “high” on various measures

ong>toong> those of students at schools considered “low” on various

measures. Kahlo is one school that is higher than average

on measures of college-going culture and organization

around postsecondary planning. That is, Kahlo had a

higher than average percentage of prior graduates who

went on ong>toong> four-year colleges, applied ong>toong> three or more

schools, and completed a FAFSA. In addition, teachers’

impressions of college climate were more positive than

average. Overall, Kahlo performed very strongly on

indicaong>toong>rs found ong>toong> be predictive of students taking ong>theong>

steps necessary ong>toong> enroll in a four-year college.

Based on our qualitative interviews, students at

Kahlo were far more likely than students at oong>theong>r

schools ong>toong> receive one-on-one guidance from a

knowledgeable adult, primarily one of ong>theong> counselors.

Though not a universal experience, most students at

Kahlo reported at least briefly discussing ong>theong>ir future

plans with a counselor. Many students reported more

involved support from ong>theong>ir counselors, repeatedly

visiting ong>theong>ir offices ong>toong> discuss college options, seek

information, and receive help on applications.

Counselors also nominated several students for prestigious

scholarships. In addition ong>toong> receiving such

supports at school, Kahlo students seemed ong>toong> have

greater access ong>toong> community resources for college planning;

several students were involved in communitybased

or church-based college planning programs.

Kahlo had a clear focus on college-preparaong>toong>ry

programming. In addition ong>toong> an after-school ACT

prep class, ong>theong> school organized multiple college trips,

both ong>toong> local and out-of-state colleges, as well as an

evening college fair, all of which were well attended

by students and parents. Additionally, Kahlo utilized


peer-ong>toong>-peer networking ong>toong> organize a team of students

who would learn about college planning resources and

systematically disseminate information ong>toong> ong>theong>ir classmates.

As a result of personal counseling, college-prep

programming, and peer-ong>toong>-peer networking, students

at Kahlo were far more likely than students at oong>theong>r

schools ong>toong> be aware of application deadlines, apply for

a financial aid PIN, visit colleges, and be nominated

by school personnel for scholarships.

Ralph Ellison ong>Highong> school: Caring, but Not about College

Ellison ong>Highong> looked about average on measures of

college-going culture and organization around postsecondary

planning. Interviews revealed that Ellison

students had strong relationships with ong>theong>ir teachers;

students were very likely ong>toong> say that ong>theong>ir teachers

respected ong>theong>m, had ong>theong>ir best interests at heart, and

genuinely cared about ong>theong>m as individuals. Students

also reported that ong>theong>re was at least one teacher in

ong>theong> school ong>toong> whom ong>theong>y could turn for help with a

personal problem. Ellison teachers also talked about

college, often reminding students that ong>theong> skills ong>theong>y

were learning in class would be important in college.

Oong>theong>r times, ong>theong> discussions were more concrete;

teachers looked up average ACT scores at colleges

students were interested in attending or made specific

suggestions ong>toong> students about colleges ong>toong> which ong>theong>y

might apply. Some teachers arranged college visits for

ong>theong>ir whole classes.

Given ong>theong> strong student-teacher relationships at

Ellison and ong>theong> willingness of teachers ong>toong> talk ong>toong> ong>theong>ir

students about college, ong>theong>re was a surprising lack of

individual support for students in pursuing ong>theong>ir college

plans. Although ong>theong>y were likely ong>toong> receive positive

messages and in many cases information from ong>theong>ir

teachers, ong>theong>y found very little guidance in ong>theong> form

of one-on-one conversations. Some students reported

talking ong>toong> a counselor about academic issues, but very

few students ever spoke ong>toong> a guidance counselor about

college plans. Some reported visiting ong>theong> counselors’

office and not finding any assistance, and many oong>theong>rs

reported not knowing who ong>theong>ir counselor was. There

was also a surprising lack of postsecondary programming.

Students did not know of any school-organized

college ong>toong>urs or participate in any college-oriented

after-school activities. Though colleges would occasionally

visit ong>theong> school, Ellison did not have its own

college fair. Some students reported that ong>theong>y were

encouraged ong>toong> attend a citywide college fair, while oong>theong>rs

reported being ong>toong>ld that attending this fair would

result in an unexcused absence from school. Despite

ong>theong>ir teachers’ dedication ong>toong> ong>theong>ir students’ future,

students at Ellison were largely on ong>theong>ir own when it

came ong>toong> making college plans.

shel silverstein ong>Highong> school: Cafeteria-style Information

Silverstein looked like an average CPS high school on

most college culture measures, with one exception:

Silverstein was far below average on ong>theong> percentage of

prior graduates who had applied ong>toong> three or more colleges.

In interviews, students at Silverstein had generally

positive feelings about ong>theong>ir teachers, but—with

a few exceptions—did not have teachers who talked

much about college. Students had positive feelings

about ong>theong>ir school experience and ong>theong> education and

support ong>theong>y received at Silverstein, but very few students

reported having strong relationships with teachers

or counselors. Even fewer students reported having

a one-on-one conversation with an adult at ong>theong>ir school

about planning for life after high school.

Silverstein relied on a structured but impersonal

system for relaying information about postsecondary

planning. Silverstein hosted a college fair during ong>theong>

school day, attendance at which was mandaong>toong>ry for all

seniors. The school also had mandaong>toong>ry assemblies for

seniors throughout ong>theong> school year, and many colleges,

especially proprietary and trade schools, visited ong>theong>

school or students’ classes. Finally, counselors would

often visit classes ong>toong> hand out written information on

scholarships, make announcements about upcoming

events, or make presentations about graduation requirements.

Unfortunately for students at Silverstein, this

information almost never came with any one-on-one

guidance, and students did not seem ong>toong> have a sense of

Chapter 63


what information was important ong>toong> prioritize or what

resources were important ong>toong> utilize. As a result, students

knew ong>theong>y could go ong>toong> ong>theong>ir counselors with questions,

but ong>theong>y very rarely did; students knew ong>theong>re were

trips scheduled ong>toong> visit colleges, but very few went;

students attended assemblies, but ong>theong>y typically could

not remember what was discussed; students received

lists of potential scholarships, but ong>theong>y hardly ever

discussed financial aid with a knowledgeable adult.

Students at Silverstein, understandably, were often

confused by ong>theong> college planning process.

Changing ong>theong> Culture

Given ong>theong>se findings, it is not surprising that students

at Kahlo were more likely ong>toong> successfully transition ong>toong> a

four-year college than students at Ellison or Silverstein.

The qualitative differences between ong>theong>se schools focus

attention on what changes would have ong>toong> happen for

Figure 1 (BOX). College Culture in Three Fieldwork ong>Schoolong>s

college culture in three fieldwork schools

Difference from ong>theong> Average CPS ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong>

(in standard deviations)

2.0

1.5

1.0

0.5

0

-0.5

-1.0

-1.5

-2.0

1.51

0.52

- 0.01

Percentage of Prior

Graduates Attending a

Four-year College

68 64 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

0.54

0.05

0.11

Teachers’ Assessment

of College Climate

schools ong>toong> move from “low” ong>toong> “high” on measures of

college-going culture and organization around postsecondary

planning. It is also important ong>toong> note that

both Ellison and Silverstein had significant strengths

in ong>theong>ir school environments, including strong teacherstudent

relationships at Ellison and an organized system

of information dissemination at Silverstein. However,

ong>theong>se schools demonstrate clearly that those attributes

are not sufficient for a thriving college-going culture.

What distinguishes Kahlo from ong>theong> oong>theong>r schools is

that it is organized ong>toong> provide individual guidance ong>toong>

its students—essentially, ong>toong> combine ong>theong> supportive

relationships found at Ellison with ong>theong> information

dissemination found at Silverstein, in ong>theong> form of

individual, intentional college counseling. Without

this necessary condition, students were vulnerable ong>toong>

potholes on ong>theong> road ong>toong> college because ong>theong>y were left

ong>toong> filter and analyze information on ong>theong>ir own.

Kahlo Ellison Silverstein

Note: These numbers are based on ong>Potholesong> Samples and do not include students in special education. These variables were standardized ong>toong> have ong>theong> mean of 0 and ong>theong>

standard deviation of 1. See Appendix D for details about ong>theong>se variables.

0.93

0.24

-0.11

Percentage of Prior

Graduates Who Completed

ong>theong> FAFSA

0.51

-0.07

-1.07

Percentage of Prior

Graduates Who Applied ong>toong>

Three or More ong>Schoolong>s


Chapter 2: Case Study Endnotes

1 All names of students and high schools in ong>theong> case studies in this

report are pseudonyms.

2 For more information on how ong>theong> qualitative study was conducted,

see Appendix B.

3 Both students’ ACT scores placed ong>theong>m above ong>theong>ir minority

counterparts who graduated with high class ranks. The ACT average

score is 19. and 0.9 for African-American and Latino students,

respectively, who graduated in ong>theong> ong>toong>p quarter of ong>theong>ir class in 005.

See ACT 005 National Score Report, data tables, available online at

act.org.

4 Although Moises and Grady appear ong>toong> have an excellent

understanding of financial aid and ong>theong> aid packages offered ong>toong>

ong>theong>m by different schools, it is important ong>toong> note that all reports

of financial aid packages in ong>theong> case studies in this report are

based on student reports only and might not reflect ong>theong> actual

aid package offered ong>toong> a student by his or her prospective college.

5 In some cases, such as those of Moises and Sabrina, revealing a

student’s college choice would compromise his or her anonymity.

College choice is kept confidential in ong>theong>se cases.

6 All reports of financial aid packages in ong>theong>se case studies are

based on student reports only and might not reflect ong>theong> actual

aid package offered ong>toong> a student by his or her prospective college.

Jennie, for example, might not have actually properly filed her

FAFSA, making it unclear what that $10,000 in loans actually

refers ong>toong>.

7 All reports of financial aid packages in ong>theong>se case studies are

based on student reports only and might not reflect ong>theong> actual

aid package offered ong>toong> a student by his or her prospective college.

8 All reports of financial aid packages in ong>theong>se case studies are

based on student reports only and might not reflect ong>theong> actual

aid package offered ong>toong> a student by his or her prospective college.

It’s possible, for example, that Marco reported an offer of a large

institutional scholarship, but hadn’t actually received his Financial

Aid Award Letter yet.

9 What Marco might not have known is that IIT offers a variety of

majors outside of engineering, including biology (as well as many

oong>theong>r sciences that could’ve prepared him for medical school),

English, liberal arts, and business.

10 Though none of ong>theong>se schools are selective enrollment schools,

one did have a long-standing legacy of sending many students

ong>toong> college.

11 For more information on ong>theong>se measures, see How We Measure

ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> College-Going Culture, p. 45.

Chapter 1 69 65


66 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College


Chapter 3

The Problem of College Match: What

Kinds of Colleges Do CPS Students

Enroll in, Given ong>theong>ir Qualifications?

The process of searching for a college can be daunting. There are

more than ,500 four-year colleges in ong>theong> United States, including

more than 100 in ong>theong> state of Illinois. 56 Our analysis in Chapter largely

confirms research findings that urban students often do not take ong>theong> nec-

essary steps ong>toong> apply ong>toong> and enroll in four-year colleges. As we laid out in

Chapter 1, urban students often have limited access ong>toong> ong>theong> social capital (i.e.,

norms, information, and supports) that provides ong>theong> guidance ong>theong>y need ong>toong>

effectively participate in ong>theong> college search process. 57 In addition, research

on college access has shown that lack of information, access ong>toong> guidance,

and strong relationships with knowledgeable adults often results in urban

students limiting ong>theong>ir college search and enrolling in traditional “enclaves,”

predominantly large public universities with lower levels of selectivity. 58

Our previous report highlighted this trend of constrained enrollment in

Chicago. Among CPS graduates who enroll in a four-year college, nearly

two-thirds attend just seven institutions. 59 In this chapter, we look specifi-

cally at how CPS students, such as Clara (see p. 68), engaged in ong>theong> college

search process and ong>theong> extent ong>toong> which CPS students enroll in ong>theong> types of

colleges ong>toong> which ong>theong>y have access, given ong>theong>ir qualifications.

2

consortium on chicago school research at ong>theong> university of chicago 67


Clara–A Case Study

Making her hard work pay off all by herself

Can it be assumed that smart, motivated students can manage ong>theong> postsecondary planning process just fine

on ong>theong>ir own? Clara shows that, when it comes ong>toong> college planning, even ong>theong> best students in a school can go

almost unnoticed by adults.

ong>Fromong> ong>theong> first semester of her freshman year until

ong>theong> day she walked across ong>theong> stage at graduation,

Clara1 was ong>theong> one of ong>theong> ong>toong>p students in her class at

Ellison ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong>. She graduated from ong>theong> IB program

with a weighted GPA of 4.7 and an ACT score

of 4. Her stellar high school performance afforded

her ong>theong> opportunity ong>toong> attend not only a very selective

school but almost any college or university in ong>theong>

country. Clara’s teachers confirmed her academic

ability. Her English teacher described her as: “A rare

individual. The only problem or weakness I see in this

student is ong>theong> pressure she places on herself.” Her math

teacher said: “She has extremely high expectations of

herself and has a strong work ethic that allows her ong>toong>

meet her high standards. At ong>theong> same time, she always

helps her peers.” Clara was a prolific writer of fiction

and poetry, for which she won numerous awards,

including some scholarships. In ong>theong> minds of her teachers,

peers, and family, ong>theong>re were few doors not open

ong>toong> this remarkable young woman.

Clara lived with both her parents and younger sister.

Although Clara’s parents, who are of Puerong>toong> Rican

descent, had virtually no experience with college, Clara

made it clear her moong>theong>r was her greatest ally in college

planning. Clara’s moong>theong>r insisted that Clara attend a

“good school,” but neiong>theong>r Clara nor her moong>theong>r was

sure what schools are considered “good.”

Junior Year: An Active but Uninformed College search

During ong>theong> spring of her junior year, Clara was clear

about her intent ong>toong> go ong>toong> a four-year college but had a

hard time describing her ideal college. She did, however,

know that she wanted ong>toong> stay in Chicago so she could

continue ong>toong> live at home and that she preferred a small

college. And while Clara had never taken an art class

68 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

in high school, she wanted ong>toong> study art and design.

When asked why she said:

“I’m not really sure what [graphic design] consists

of. I just know it’s like you’re designing. There’s this

website and you make your own pages with all ong>theong>se

codes, and I did it and I liked ong>theong> results. And that’s

why I really want ong>toong> go inong>toong> graphic design.”

By ong>theong> end of junior year, Clara’s plan was ong>toong> study

art or design at a school where she could take a variety

of courses. A teacher had encouraged her ong>toong> attend a

more comprehensive college than an art and design

school. Clara liked this idea because it would allow

her ong>toong> experiment with different kinds of courses. In

ong>theong> end, though, her list of colleges was ong>theong> same as

many of her less-qualified peers, including schools

like Norong>theong>astern Illinois University, ong>theong> University of

Illinois at Chicago, and Loyola University. Clara wasn’t

excited about attending any of ong>theong>m.

summer: Doing Her Research Campus by Campus

Clara’s moong>theong>r was as active as Clara in ong>theong> process of

college search and selection. Every time Clara mentioned

a college that she was interested in attending, her

moong>theong>r insisted on driving ong>toong> ong>theong> campus for a ong>toong>ur and

even sitting in on classes. Clara and her moong>theong>r visited

several colleges over ong>theong> summer, and Clara completed

a week of classes at ong>theong> Illinois Institute of Art.

Fall senior Year: Making Up Her Mind

In ong>theong> fall of her senior year, Clara continued a college

search that was extensive, but not well directed. Clara

spoke casually with her teachers about her college

plans, but she had not spoken with a counselor or had a


serious conversation about her college choices with any

educaong>toong>r at her school. Clara reported an incident in ong>theong>

counseling office when she was trying ong>toong> figure out ong>theong>

difference between official and unofficial transcripts:

“Everyone’s so grouchy . . . in ong>theong> [counseling]

office. I guess I can understand, because ong>theong>y

wouldn’t remember one single application, but I

don’t know . . . ong>theong>y could be more approachable.”

Clara invested significant time and energy in completing

applications ong>toong> about eight schools. Many of

Clara’s peers in ong>theong> IB program struggled ong>toong> balance

ong>theong> demands of rigorous IB culminating projects and

ong>theong> college application process. Clara got everything

done on time—even submitting applications for Loyola

and Columbia College in Chicago (a nonselective

four-year college) by ong>theong> priority deadlines—without

her school work suffering. In ong>theong> fall, Clara said she

planned ong>toong> attend Columbia “ for sure.” She ong>toong>ured

ong>theong> school, enjoyed ong>theong> atmosphere and downong>toong>wn

location, and knew she could study graphic design.

Winter senior Year: Changing Her Mind

During her winter interview, Clara said she changed her

mind and decided ong>toong> “definitely” attend Loyola, again

based largely on having ong>toong>ured ong>theong> campus and sat in

on a class ong>theong>re, which she enjoyed. She was accepted

ong>toong> Loyola and Columbia, and Loyola offered her a

merit-based scholarship ong>toong> cover some of her tuition.

Though Clara had no problem completing her college

applications, she was overwhelmed by ong>theong> process of

applying for financial aid. She was familiar with tax

documents because she helped her parents complete

ong>theong>ir forms, but she was confused by certain questions

on ong>theong> FAFSA. Clara was confident she’d figure it out

and complete her financial aid applications by April or

May. She never met with a counselor.

spring senior Year: Changing Her Mind Again

Clara changed her mind about which college ong>toong> attend

one more time before graduation, and finally planned

ong>toong> attend a small, in-state liberal arts school ranked as

somewhat selective. Spring of her senior year was ong>theong>

first time she ever mentioned this school:

Interviewer: [That school] is not on this list. Last

time you said Loyola, UIC, and Columbia . . . [laughing]

What happened?

Clara: [Laughing] [My mom and I] passed by ong>theong>

school, and I’m like, ‘This is a nice school. What is

that?’ So my mom started looking up stuff. She [ong>toong>ld

me], ‘I think you’d like this school.’ And so we looked

at it, ong>theong> web page and ong>theong>n we signed up for ong>theong>

ong>toong>ur. I really love this school.

Clara was one of ong>theong> ong>toong>p five students in her graduating

class, but she never considered applying ong>toong> a very

selective college. Apparently, no one steered her ong>toong> one

eiong>theong>r. Her teachers recognized that she was a remarkable

young woman, but she never spoke ong>toong> a counselor

and never seriously discussed her plans for ong>theong> future

with any adult at her school.

Not surprisingly, Clara was accepted at all ong>theong> institutions

ong>toong> which she applied. Though her confusion

over financial aid looked like it might have been a

serious stumbling block when she discussed it in

February, Clara ended up figuring out financial aid,

presumably with ong>theong> help of her new college, and she

did end up receiving enough federal, institutional,

and private scholarship money ong>toong> make her college

education affordable for her and her family. 3 Clara’s

IB coursework and test scores helped place her inong>toong>

advanced freshmen courses at her college. In ong>theong> fall,

she was thoroughly engaged as an English major and

very happy with her college choice.

With ong>theong> help of an exceptionally involved parent,

Clara managed ong>toong> find her way ong>toong> a school that made

her feel at home, ong>toong>ok care of her as a first-generation

college student, and promised ong>toong> support her academic

ambitions throughout college. It is also apparent that

this choice was arrived at through no small amount

of luck, with Clara and her moong>theong>r accidentally

happening upon a college that proved a good fit for

Clara. With such limited guidance from her school,

it is easy ong>toong> imagine how Clara’s song>toong>ry might not have

had such a positive ending.

Endnotes for this case study can be found on page 96.

Chapter 3 69


To many, a pattern of constrained enrollment is

not necessarily surprising or troubling. Students

make choices about college enrollment for a wide

variety of reasons. The preference for a small number

of local institutions may simply reflect ong>theong> desire ong>toong>

live at home or attend college with friends. There

is a common belief that students who live at home

and attend local colleges may ultimately be more

successful in college because ong>theong>y have lower living

expenses and greater access ong>toong> an existing network

of support. In addition, students with poor academic

preparation may only be qualified ong>toong> enroll

in less selective institutions, and thus ong>theong>ir choices

simply may reflect ong>theong>ir reduced college options.

Decisions about college also reflect wheong>theong>r students

have families with ong>theong> financial resources ong>toong> meet

ong>theong> costs of college and ong>theong> willingness ong>toong> take out

loans. All of ong>theong>se explanations suggest that students

conduct broad college searches and ong>theong>n make informed

decisions that are bounded by facong>toong>rs such as

qualifications or family finances. A critical question

is wheong>theong>r ong>theong>se college enrollment patterns reflect

informed choices or wheong>theong>r ong>theong>y are driven by ong>theong>

opposite: a lack of information and guidance that

leads students ong>toong> follow ong>theong> most readily available

road ong>toong> college.

Research suggests, moreover, that ong>theong>re are negative

consequences ong>toong> students’ constrained college

choices. Poor academic qualifications, lack of financial

resources, and lack of information and guidance have

implications beyond constrained college searches

and lower enrollment rates; students who face

ong>theong>se barriers are also more likely ong>toong> enroll in institutions

where ong>theong>y do not have a high probability of

attaining a college degree. There is a common belief

that institutional differences in college graduation rates

are driven by differences in ong>theong> academic and

socioeconomic characteristics of ong>theong>ir student

bodies, and not by differences in ong>theong> quality of

ong>theong> institutions ong>theong>mselves. Yet, ong>theong>re is evidence,

including our previous report, that low-income

and urban minority students often enroll in

colleges that provide significantly lower probabilities

of completing a four-year degree (e.g.,

two-year and less selective four-year colleges), and

70 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

that ong>theong>se lower probabilities of degree completion

cannot be solely attributed ong>toong> ong>theong> characteristics

of students who enroll. 60 An institution’s

selectivity is related ong>toong> its students’ likelihood of

college graduation, though selectivity is clearly

not ong>theong> only characteristic that matters. 61 Even

colleges of similar selectivity foster vastly different

environments and supports for students. A

recent Pell Institute report looked at what institutional

characteristics might explain wide variation

in graduation rates among colleges that serve

high proportions of low-income students. This report

concluded that, even among colleges of similar

selectivity, certain institutional characteristics—

small class size, intentional academic planning,

and an explicit retention policy—may improve ong>theong>

graduation rates for low-income students. 6

College guidebooks often suggest a simple rule

of thumb for ong>theong> college application process: after

conducting a thorough college search and developing

a list of schools, be sure ong>toong> apply ong>toong> schools in

each of three categories: “reach schools,” “safety

schools,” and “match schools.” Reach schools are

colleges that are a stretch for a student ong>toong> gain acceptance,

given his or her qualifications; safety schools

are colleges ong>toong> which ong>theong> student is almost certain

ong>toong> gain acceptance; and match schools are colleges

where, on average, students who are admitted have

comparable qualifications ong>toong> ong>theong> student. Thus,

ong>theong> concept of “match” we examine in this chapter

describes wheong>theong>r a student enrolls in a college with

a selectivity level that matches ong>theong> kind of colleges

ong>toong> which a student would likely have been accepted

given his or her high school qualifications. The

previous chapter focused on ong>theong> road that students

follow ong>toong> a four-year college. In this chapter, we

focus on ong>theong> issue of college match. We begin by

examining ong>theong> extent ong>toong> which CPS students enroll

in colleges that match ong>theong>ir qualifications. We ong>theong>n

use data from our Longitudinal Qualitative Sample

ong>toong> examine ong>theong> reasons why students chose mismatch

colleges. 63 Finally, we use survey data ong>toong> examine

wheong>theong>r students’ likelihood of matching differs by

ong>theong>ir high schools’ college climate and by students’

access ong>toong> guidance.


What is ong>theong> difference between college match and college fit? Sakaarah provides an important example

of how thoughtful, qualified, and well-supported students think about finding a college, considering

match ong>toong> be one, but not ong>theong> only, component of college fit. See Sakaarah’s case study, p. 88.

Match is Just One Component of Finding

ong>theong> Right College Fit

This chapter focuses specifically on ong>theong> concept

of match, which is an easily quantifiable outcome.

Ultimately, finding ong>theong> right college means more than

gaining acceptance ong>toong> ong>theong> most competitive college

possible. It is about finding a place that is a good “fit”:

a college that meets a student’s educational and social

needs and that will best support his or her intellectual

and social development. Finding a good fit requires

students ong>toong> gain an understanding of what ong>theong>ir needs

and preferences are, and ong>theong>n ong>toong> seek colleges that meet

that description. Fit may also include wheong>theong>r colleges

offer higher graduation rates and/or better financial aid.

Match is just one consideration of ong>theong> larger process of

engaging in an effective college search, but it is also an

important indicaong>toong>r of wheong>theong>r students are engaged

more broadly in a search that incorporates ong>theong> larger

question of fit.

Clara and Sakaarah are two examples from our

longitudinal study of how two very talented and committed

students managed ong>theong> process of searching

for and applying ong>toong> colleges. Sakaarah followed ong>theong>

recommended strategy—applying ong>toong> safety, match,

and reach schools—and also paid particular attention

in her search ong>toong> ong>theong> academic and social climate that

would best meet her needs. Clara, on ong>theong> oong>theong>r hand,

had a hard time engaging in such a process and did

not, even with tremendous parental support, have

enough information and guidance ong>toong> consider a range

of schools, particularly ong>theong> very selective schools she

was qualified ong>toong> attend. For her, college search was

more of a scramble ong>toong> try ong>toong> find a college. In ong>theong> end,

both students chose colleges ong>theong>y found satisfacong>toong>ry,

even though ong>theong>y could have enrolled in more selective

colleges. The process by which ong>theong>y made those

choices, however, was very different.

Sakaarah tapped inong>toong> a wide variety of sources of

support and information that allowed her ong>toong> make a

thoughtful, well-researched college choice based on

many facong>toong>rs, while Clara, in short, relied on luck ong>toong>

find a fit. Clara did not have guidance about how ong>toong>

complete a college search or determine ong>theong> advantages

and disadvantages of different college options. Most

importantly, Clara never knew ong>theong> full range of colleges

she was eligible ong>toong> attend. In this chapter, we focus on

students matching on qualifications, but it is clear from

cases such as Sakaarah that selectivity is but one of

many facong>toong>rs students use in college choice. As Sakaarah

illustrates, thinking about match is often a good starting

point for organizing a college search. Thus, ong>theong> selectivity

of colleges students look at, apply ong>toong>, and ultimately

enroll in provides us with a window inong>toong> wheong>theong>r CPS

graduates are capitalizing on ong>theong>ir high school qualifications

in a way that would best lead ong>theong>m ong>toong> attain a

four-year degree. In ong>theong> end, understanding why students

choose a match or mismatch school is important in

understanding wheong>theong>r students are getting ong>theong> kinds

of support ong>theong>y need ong>toong> best maximize ong>theong>ir college

options and make a well-informed choice.

We begin by looking at ong>theong> basic patterns of matching

in CPS—how many CPS graduates enroll in match

colleges? We ong>theong>n use data from our qualitative study

ong>toong> explore various points in ong>theong> search, application, and

enrollment process at which students are most vulnerable

ong>toong> “mismatch,” enrolling in a college that has a

selectivity level below ong>theong>ir qualifications. In essence,

we attempt ong>toong> discern how many students who mismatch

look like Clara, who never considered a match

college, and how many students look like Sakaarah,

who was accepted ong>toong> match schools but ultimately made

a different college choice. Finally, we examine ong>theong> role

of adults in creating a college climate that encourages

students ong>toong> enroll in a match college and wheong>theong>r this

role is always effective.

Chapter 3 71


College Match for Cps students

A first step in examining match is ong>toong> compare students’

qualifications with ong>theong>ir college enrollment. We compared

ong>theong> selectivity of ong>theong> colleges students would be

eligible ong>toong> attend, given ong>theong>ir ACT scores, GPAs, and

coursework (see How We Define College Access for CPS

Graduates, p. 17), ong>toong> ong>theong> selectivity level of ong>theong> college in

which ong>theong>y enrolled, if any. Once again, we considered

a student as enrolled in college based on data from ong>theong>

National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), as well as data

from ong>theong> Senior Exit Questionnaire if students reported

planning ong>toong> attend a college that did not participate in

ong>theong> NSC (see Appendix C). We identified ong>theong> selectivity

of colleges by ong>theong>ir Barron’s ratings (see Appendix

A for details on Barron’s categories).

Figure 24a.

Table Only 38 2 percent of ong>theong> most qualified students in CPS enroll in very selective colleges

Only 38 percent of ong>theong> most qualified students in cps enroll in very selective colleges

Match Categories: College Access versus College Choice

Access ong>toong>

Very Selective

Selective

Somewhat

Selective

Nonselective

Two-Year

Total

(by enrolled)

Very Selective Selective

38%

11%

3%

0%

0%

391

(9%)

Enrolled in

Note: These figures are based on ong>theong> Match Sample (see Appendix B for details). Students

who are labeled as “Above Match” enroll in schools with selectivity ratings that exceed

what Note: ong>theong>y These have figures access are ong>toong> based attend. on Students ong>theong> Match labeled Sample as (see “Match” Appendix enroll B in for schools details). with Students ratings

that who match are labeled what as ong>theong>y “Above have match” access enroll ong>toong> attend. in schools Students with selectivity labeled as ratings “Slightly that Below exceed Match” what

attend ong>theong>y have schools access that ong>toong> are attend. one Students selectivity labeled category as “Match” below ong>theong>ir enroll access in schools level. with In ong>theong> ratings case that of

match what ong>theong>y have access ong>toong> attend. Students labeled as “Slightly below match” attend

schools that are one selectivity category below ong>theong>ir access level. In ong>theong> case of students

with only access ong>toong> a two-year school, those who do not enroll in any college are

considered “Slightly below match.” Students labeled as “Far below match” attend schools

that are two or more selectivity levels below what ong>theong>y have access ong>toong> attend, in some

cases ong>theong>se students do not attend college at all.

7 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

25%

16%

6%

1%

0%

384

(9%)

Somewhat

Selective

20%

35%

34%

20%

8%

1,111

(26%)

Table compares students’ access ong>toong> ong>theong>ir enrollment

for students in our Match Sample. The Match

Sample draws on ong>theong> core sample we use in ong>theong> previous

chapter, students with all data sources who stated

during ong>theong>ir senior year that ong>theong>y aspired ong>toong> complete

at least a four-year degree. 64 Like ong>theong> ong>Potholesong> Sample,

ong>theong> Match Sample includes students who attended

selective enrollment high schools. The Match Sample

is furong>theong>r limited ong>toong> students who planned ong>toong> continue

ong>theong>ir education in ong>theong> fall after graduation, so that we

only consider match for students who stated an intention

ong>toong> go ong>toong> college. 65

As seen in Table , 15 percent of our sample graduated,

like Clara, with qualifications for a very selective

four-year college. At ong>theong> end of senior year, only 38

Nonselective Two-Year No College

4%

9%

13%

11%

8%

414

(10%)

3%

11%

19%

29%

34%

814

(19%)

10%

18%

26%

38%

51%

1,203

(28%)

Above Match Match Slightly Below Match Far Below Match

Total

(by access)

644

(15%)

870

(20%)

1,409

(33%)

722

(17%)

672

(16%)

4,317

(100%)

Percent Match

or Above

38%

27%

43%

32%

50%

students with only access ong>toong> a two-year school, those who do not enroll in any college

are considered “Slightly Below Match.” Students labeled as “Far Below Match” attend

schools that are two or more selectivity levels below what ong>theong>y have access ong>toong> attend, in

some cases ong>theong>se students do not attend college at all.


percent of ong>theong>se students with ong>theong> highest qualifications

enrolled in a very selective college. One-quarter

attended a college with a slightly lower level of selectivity

(a selective college). About 0 percent, like Clara,

enrolled in a somewhat selective college—a college with

a selectivity rating far below her level of qualifications.

An additional 17 percent enrolled in a nonselective

four-year college, a two-year college, or no college at

all. Taken ong>toong>geong>theong>r, ong>theong> most qualified students were

just as likely ong>toong> not enroll in college or enroll in a college

far below ong>theong>ir match (37 percent) as ong>theong>y were ong>toong>

enroll in a very selective college (38 percent).

We might expect that matching would be hardest for

students with access ong>toong> very selective colleges. Students

with ong>theong> highest qualifications must enroll in a very

selective college ong>toong> be considered a match, and ong>theong>re

are few of ong>theong>se institutions in ong>theong> Chicago area. Also,

as Moises and Grady (see Moises and Grady’s Road ong>toong>

College, p. 30) illustrate, ong>theong> process of applying ong>toong> a

very selective college is typically far more complicated,

and ong>theong>se colleges deny admission ong>toong> ong>theong> highest proportions

of students. However, Table shows that

mismatch is an issue among CPS students of all levels

of qualifications. Students with access ong>toong> selective colleges

(such as DePaul University or Loyola University)

were actually less likely ong>toong> match than ong>theong>ir classmates

with access ong>toong> very selective colleges. Only 16 percent

of students with access ong>toong> selective colleges enrolled in

a match college. An additional 11 percent enrolled in

a very selective college, a rating of higher than ong>theong>ir

match category, what we term “above match.” Thus,

only 7 percent of CPS graduates with access ong>toong> a

selective college enrolled in a selective or very selective

college, while fully 9 percent of ong>theong>se students

enrolled in a two-year college or did not enroll at all.

This mismatch problem is nearly as acute for students

who had access ong>toong> somewhat selective colleges (ong>theong>

majority of four-year public colleges in Illinois). Fewer

than half of students with access ong>toong> somewhat selective

colleges attended a college that matched or exceeded

ong>theong>ir qualifications.

Indeed, what this table makes clear is that ong>theong> dominant

pattern of behavior for students who mismatch

is not that ong>theong>y choose ong>toong> attend a four-year college

slightly below ong>theong>ir match. Raong>theong>r, many students

Figure 24

Most

Figure

cps

24.

graduates enroll in colleges that have selectivity

Most CPS graduates enroll in colleges that have selectivity levels

levels far below ong>theong> kinds of colleges where ong>theong>y would

far below ong>theong> kinds of colleges where ong>theong>y would likely be accepted?

likely be accepted

Percentage of students who have outcomes that match ong>theong>ir qualifications:

Percent of Students

50

40

30

20

10

0

11

27 28

Above Match Match Slightly Below

Match

Far Below

Match

Note: These figures are based on ong>theong> Match Sample (see Appendix B for details). Students

who are labeled as “Above Match” enroll in schools with selectivity ratings that exceed what

ong>theong>y have access ong>toong> attend. Students labeled as “Match” enroll in schools with ratings that

match what ong>theong>y have access ong>toong> attend. Students labeled as “Slightly Below Match” attend

schools that are one selectivity category below ong>theong>ir access level. In ong>theong> case of students

with only access ong>toong> a two-year school, those who do not enroll in any college are

considered “Slightly Below Match.” Students labeled as “Far Below Match” attend schools

that are two or more selectivity levels below what ong>theong>y have access ong>toong> attend, in some

cases ong>theong>se students do not attend college at all.

mismatch by enrolling in two-year colleges or not

enrolling in college at all. Across all students (see Figure

4), about two-thirds (6 percent) of students attended

a college with a selectivity level that was below ong>theong> kinds

of colleges ong>theong>y would have most likely been accepted

ong>toong>, given ong>theong>ir level of qualifications.

So far we have looked at patterns of matching among

students who attended both neighborhood and selective

enrollment high schools. This picture gets even more

alarming when we account for ong>theong> fact that students

who attend selective enrollment high schools are much

more likely ong>toong> attend match colleges, regardless of ong>theong>ir

levels of qualifications. 66 Figure 5 compares wheong>theong>r

students with different levels of qualifications enrolled

in a match school by wheong>theong>r ong>theong>y attended one of

CPS’s six selective enrollment high schools. Among

students with access ong>toong> a very selective college, fully

43 percent of graduates from selective enrollment high

schools enrolled in colleges that matched ong>theong>ir qualifications,

compared ong>toong> only 3 percent of ong>theong>ir similarly

qualified counterparts in neighborhood high schools.

Among students with access ong>toong> selective colleges, only

57 percent of graduates from neighborhood high

34

Chapter 3 73


schools enrolled in colleges that matched, exceeded,

or were slightly below ong>theong>ir levels of qualifications

compared ong>toong> fully 75 percent of students enrolled in

selective enrollment schools. However, even in selective

enrollment schools, a substantial portion of students

enroll in colleges with selectivity ratings that are far

below ong>theong>ir qualifications.

Latino students Are ong>theong> Most Likely ong>toong> “Mismatch”

Not surprisingly, given our findings from ong>theong> previous

chapter, Latino students were significantly less likely

than any oong>theong>r racial/ethnic group ong>toong> enroll in a college

with selectivity levels that matched or exceeded ong>theong>ir

levels of qualifications (see Figure 6). Almost half of

Latino students (44 percent) enrolled in colleges with

Figure 25

Percentage of students who have outcomes that match ong>theong>ir qualifications by

access group and wheong>theong>r ong>theong> student is in a selective enrollment high school:

Access ong>toong> Very Selective Colleges

Neighborhood

ong>Schoolong>s

Selective

Enrollment

ong>Schoolong>s

Neighborhood

ong>Schoolong>s

0

22

32

Access ong>toong> Selective Colleges

Selective

Enrollment

ong>Schoolong>s

Access ong>toong> Somewhat Selective Colleges

Neighborhood

ong>Schoolong>s

Selective

Enrollment

ong>Schoolong>s

26 42

43 24

33

20

35 44

39 36

24

41

12 46

52 17 31

40 60

Percent of Students

Above Match or Match Slightly Below Match Far Below Match

Note: These figures are based on ong>theong> Match Sample (see Appendix B for details). Students

who are labeled as “Above Match or Match” enroll in schools with selectivity ratings that

exceed or match what ong>theong>y have access ong>toong> attend. Students labeled as “Slightly Below

Match” attend schools that are one selectivity category below ong>theong>ir access level. In ong>theong>

case of students with only access ong>toong> a two-year school, those who do not enroll in any

college are considered “Slightly Below Match.” Students labeled as “Far Below Match”

attend schools that are two or more selectivity levels below what ong>theong>y have access ong>toong>

attend, in some cases ong>theong>se students do not attend college at all.

80

100

selectivity levels far below ong>theong> kinds of colleges ong>theong>y

would likely have access ong>toong> given ong>theong>ir qualifications.

In comparison, only 8 percent of African-American

graduates enrolled in a college that was far below a

match.

Latino students were less likely than ong>theong>ir counterparts

of oong>theong>r races/ethnicities ong>toong> enroll in a college

that matched ong>theong>ir levels of qualifications, regardless of

ong>theong>ir high school qualifications (see Figure 7). Even

among students who had worked hard throughout high

school and earned ong>theong> GPAs and ACT scores that give

ong>theong>m access ong>toong> very selective colleges, fewer than 30

percent of Latino graduates enrolled in a very selective

college compared ong>toong> 40 percent of African-American

and White/Oong>theong>r Ethnic graduates with similarly high

Figure 26

students Figure 25. in Students selective in selective enrollment enrollment schools schools were more were more likely likely ong>toong> ong>toong> Latino students were ong>theong> least likely ong>toong> enroll in colleges that

enroll in

in

colleges

that

that

that

match

match

ong>theong>ir

ong>theong>ir

qualifications

qualifications?

Figure 26. Latino students were ong>theong> least likely ong>toong> enroll in colleges that

match ong>theong>ir levels of of qualifications? qualifications

Percentage of students who have outcomes that match ong>theong>ir qualifications

by race/ethnicity:

White/

Oong>theong>r Ethnic

African-American

Asian-American

Latino

74 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

0

6

30 28

36

15 30

27

28

10

30 29

31

7 21

28

44

20

40 60

Percent of Students

Above Match Match Slightly Below Match Far Below Match

Note: These figures are based on ong>theong> Match Sample (see Appendix B for details). Students

who are labeled as “Above Match or Match” enroll in schools with selectivity ratings that

exceed or match what ong>theong>y have access ong>toong> attend. Students labeled as “Slightly Below

Match” attend schools that are one selectivity category below ong>theong>ir access level. In ong>theong> case

of students with only access ong>toong> a two-year school, those who do not enroll in any college are

considered “Slightly Below Match.” Students labeled as “Far Below Match” attend schools

that are two or more selectivity levels below what ong>theong>y have access ong>toong> attend, in some cases

ong>theong>se students do not attend college at all.

80

100


Figure 27

Latino Figure 27. students and students with access ong>toong> selective

colleges

Latino students and students with access ong>toong> selective colleges

were ong>theong> least were likely ong>theong> least ong>toong> enroll likely in colleges ong>toong> enroll that in match colleges ong>theong>ir that levels of

match qualifications? ong>theong>ir levels of qualifications

Percentage of students who have outcomes that match ong>theong>ir qualifications by

access group and race/ethnicity:

Access ong>toong> Very Selective Colleges

White/

Oong>theong>r Ethnic

African-American

Asian-American

Latino

Access ong>toong> Selective Colleges

White/

Oong>theong>r Ethnic

African-American

Asian-American

Latino

Access ong>toong> Somewhat Selective Colleges

White/

Oong>theong>r Ethnic

African-American

Asian-American

Latino

0

40 30

30

41 18

41

43 24

32

29 24

46

27 32

42

29 41

30

25 46

29

26 25

49

33 16

51

20

53 9 38

46 17

37

29 16

55

40 60

Percent of Students

Above Match or Match Slightly Below Match Far Below Match

Note: These figures are based on ong>theong> Match Sample (see Appendix B for details). Students

who are labeled as “Above Match or Match” enroll in schools with selectivity ratings that

exceed or match what ong>theong>y have access ong>toong> attend. Students labeled as “Slightly Below

Match” attend schools that are one selectivity category below ong>theong>ir access level. In ong>theong>

case of students with only access ong>toong> a two-year school, those who do not enroll in any

college are considered “Slightly Below Match.” Students labeled as “Far Below Match”

attend schools that are two or more selectivity levels below what ong>theong>y have access ong>toong>

attend, in some cases ong>theong>se students do not attend college at all.

80

100

qualifications. This does not mean that ong>theong> problem of

mismatch is isolated ong>toong> Latinos. Among CPS students

with access ong>toong> very selective colleges, nearly half (46

percent) of Latino graduates and fully 41 percent of

African-American graduates ended up enrolling in

colleges far below ong>theong>ir qualifications.

Why Do Students Mismatch?

A Look at Application, Acceptance,

and Enrollment Decisions in our

Qualitative Longitudinal Study

Why would CPS students enroll in colleges that are

less selective than ong>theong>y are qualified ong>toong> attend? One

hypoong>theong>sis described earlier in this chapter is that students

make informed choices ong>toong> save money by living

at home and attending local colleges or choose less

selective colleges that are a better fit. Anoong>theong>r hypoong>theong>sis

is that students are accepted ong>toong> colleges that are

matches but ong>theong>n cannot afford ong>toong> attend those schools.

Both of ong>theong>se explanations suggest that ong>theong> problem

of mismatch happens in students’ final college choices,

not during ong>theong> college search and application process.

Previous research on college choice, however, suggests

that ong>theong> problem of mismatch occurs well before ong>theong>

final decision because many urban and particularly

first-generation college students conduct limited college

searches. 67

Our analysis suggests that all of ong>theong>se explanations

are important pieces of a complicated song>toong>ry. Many of

ong>theong> case studies in this and ong>theong> previous chapter point

ong>toong> ong>theong> multiple ways in which students ultimately enroll

in colleges with lower levels of selectivity or end up

not enrolling in college at all. Some students, such as

Clara, never considered a match college, because ong>theong>y

lacked information and guidance as ong>toong> what kinds

of colleges ong>theong>y could apply ong>toong>, how ong>toong> find a college

fit, and what different colleges are like. Oong>theong>rs may

have initially considered colleges that matched ong>theong>ir

qualifications but did not apply. Some may have been

accepted ong>toong> a match school, but did not enroll for many

possible reasons, like Sakaarah, who decided ong>toong> enroll

in a college of lower selectivity because she thought it

would be a better fit.

Chapter 3 75


While we do not have ong>theong> information in our quantitative

tracking system ong>toong> examine this process among

all CPS students, we do have information on students

in our qualitative study about wheong>theong>r ong>theong>y considered,

applied ong>toong>, were accepted ong>toong>, and ultimately enrolled

in match schools. Figure 8 shows ong>theong> proportion of

students in our Qualitative Sample who: (1) planned

ong>toong> attend a four-year college, ( ) considered applying

ong>toong> a college that matched or exceeded ong>theong>ir qualifications,

(3) applied ong>toong> at least one match school, (4) were

accepted ong>toong> at least one match school, and (5) enrolled

in a match school. The proportion of students in our

qualitative study who ultimately enrolled in a match

is lower than in our quantitative sample (see Figure

4) because our qualitative study over-sampled Latino

students who, as indicated in this and ong>theong> previous

chapter, are less likely ong>toong> enroll in a four-year college

and in a match college. The results of our analysis of

ong>theong> college search and application process for students

Figure 28. Of ong>theong> students with access ong>toong> at least a somewhat selective college, only 60 percent of students in ong>theong>

Of

Qualitative

ong>theong> students

Longitudinal

with access

Sample

ong>toong>

applied

at least

ong>toong> four-year

a somewhat

colleges

selective

with selectivity

college, only

levels

60

at

percent

or above

of

ong>theong>ir

students

levels of

in

qualifications?

ong>theong> Qualitative Longitudinal

sample applied ong>toong> four-year colleges with selectivity levels at or above ong>theong>ir levels of qualifications

Wheong>theong>r students in ong>theong> qualitative study considered, applied ong>toong> and decided ong>toong> enroll in a college that matched ong>theong>ir levels of qualifications:

Percent of Qualitative Longitudinal Sample

100

80

60

40

20

0

95

81

79

Access ong>toong> Very Selective Four-Year (n=20)

Access ong>toong> Selective Four-Year (n=14)

Planned ong>toong> Attend

a Four-Year College

85

78

71

Access ong>toong> Somewhat Selective Four-Year (n=37)

Considered Applying ong>toong>

a Match College

Note: This analysis uses ong>theong> Qualitative Longitudinal Sample (see Appendix B for details).

Note: This analysis uses ong>theong> Qualitative Longitudinal Sample (see Appendix B for details). Ninety-seven students had sufficient data for this analysis, and 26 of ong>theong> students only had

Ninety-seven students had sufficient data for this analysis, and 26 of ong>theong> students only

access ong>toong> nonselective or two-year colleges.

had access ong>toong> nonselective or two-year colleges.

65

57

57

Applied ong>toong> at Least

One Match College

76 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College

in our Qualitative Longitudinal Sample suggest that

many of ong>theong> most qualified CPS students (those with

access ong>toong> selective or very selective colleges) face significant

barriers at every stage.

Among students in our Qualitative Sample with

access ong>toong> a very selective four-year college, only 65

percent applied ong>toong> at least one match school. Most of

ong>theong>se students were accepted ong>toong> a match school. But

of those who were accepted, only two-thirds enrolled

in a match college. Thus, for many highly qualified

students like Clara and Javier, lacking information

about what kind of colleges ong>theong>y could consider given

ong>theong>ir qualifications became a significant barrier. Even

within a limited scope, Clara’s visiting campuses and

getting a “feel” for what kind of environment might

be a fit was critical ong>toong> overcoming her confusion about

college. It moved her college search beyond a focus on

her major ong>toong> a broader understanding that different

colleges offer different experiences. However, oong>theong>r

60

54

38

Accepted ong>toong> a

Match College

40

30

21

Enrolled in a

Match College


How closely do students listen ong>toong> ong>theong> messages schools convey about postsecondary education? Javier,

a quiet teen with a strong drive ong>toong> attend college and excellent academic qualifications, illustrates how

first-generation college-goers depend on ong>theong>ir schools ong>toong> provide postsecondary guidance. See Javier’s

case study, p. 90.

Does a student have ong>toong> be highly qualified ong>toong> thoroughly engage in ong>theong> college search and application

process? Franklin demonstrates that with ong>theong> right information, strong supports at home, and a drive

ong>toong> attend college, a student with modest qualifications can make a college match—and a successful

transition. See Franklin’s case study, p. 92.

students, such as Javier, lacked not only information

on ong>theong> kind of colleges available ong>toong> ong>theong>m, but also an

understanding of how ong>theong>y might engage in making

a decision about ong>theong> college that would best fit ong>theong>ir

needs. In both cases, a lack of structured support and

guidance made students vulnerable ong>toong> grabbing a lifeline

of ong>theong> first college option that sounded reasonable.

For Clara, that option was a good four-year college that

met her needs. For Javier, however, that option was a

last-minute decision ong>toong> attend a trade school.

Does Submitting More College

Applications Increase ong>theong>

Likelihood of Students Matching?

The case of Franklin, a student with comparatively

modest qualifications, suggests that getting students ong>toong>

actively engage in college search and ong>toong> apply ong>toong> multiple

colleges may be critical in helping students find ong>theong>ir

match. Indeed, as seen in Figure 8, one of ong>theong> steps

where students are most vulnerable ong>toong> mismatch is at ong>theong>

“apply” stage of ong>theong> process. Only 57 percent of students

in our Qualitative Sample with access ong>toong> somewhat selective

or selective colleges applied ong>toong> a match school and

only 65 percent of students with access ong>toong> very selective

colleges did so. The students with access ong>toong> selective

colleges had surprisingly low rates of acceptance ong>toong> a

match school; however, all of ong>theong> students who were

not accepted only applied ong>toong> one match school. In ong>theong>

previous chapter, we found that students who applied

ong>toong> multiple colleges, particularly students with more

marginal college qualifications, were much more likely ong>toong>

be accepted ong>toong> a four-year college. Figure 9 presents ong>theong>

results of a multivariate analysis where we examined ong>theong>

impact of ong>theong> number of applications students submitted

on ong>theong>ir chances of enrolling in a college that matched

or exceeded ong>theong>ir qualifications.

Figure 29

students with more marginal qualifications were much

Figure 29. Students with more marginal qualifications were much more likely

more

ong>toong> enroll

likely

in a

ong>toong>

match

enroll

school

in a

if

match

ong>theong>y applied

school

ong>toong>

if

multiple

ong>theong>y applied

colleges,

ong>toong>

in part because

multiple ong>theong>y were colleges, more likely in ong>toong> part be accepted because inong>toong> ong>theong>y a were college? more likely

ong>toong> be accepted inong>toong> a college

Adjusted effect on probability of match by number of college applications reported:

Percentage Point Difference in Match Rate Compared ong>toong>

Students Who Applied ong>toong> Fewer than Three ong>Schoolong>s

30

25

20

15

10

5

0

-5

Access ong>toong> non- or somewhat

selective four-year colleges

9

0

Applied ong>toong>

Three ong>toong>

Five ong>Schoolong>s

21

6

Applied ong>toong> Six

or More ong>Schoolong>s

Enrolled in a Match ong>Schoolong>

Access ong>toong> selective or very

selective four-year colleges

4

2

Applied ong>toong>

Three ong>toong>

Five ong>Schoolong>s

4 1

Applied ong>toong> Six

or More ong>Schoolong>s

Enrolled in a Match ong>Schoolong> Net of ong>theong> Impact on Being Accepted

Note: The difference is between an average student who applied ong>toong> fewer than three

schools versus an average student who applied ong>toong> three ong>toong> five schools or six or more

schools. This analysis uses ong>theong> Match Analytic Sample (see Appendix B for details) and

adjusts for student demographic, socioeconomic, academic characteristics, and collegerelated

supports and activities. See Appendix E for a description of ong>theong> model used in this

analysis.

Chapter 3 77


This analysis controls for differences across students

in ong>theong>ir high school qualifications, demographics,

moong>theong>r’s education and nativity, and neighborhood

characteristics. It also controls for student survey reports

of parental and school support for postsecondary

education, participation in college search activities,

wheong>theong>r ong>theong> student worked, participated in school

activities, and wheong>theong>r ong>theong> student submitted a FAFSA

(see Appendix D for descriptions of ong>theong> variables and

Appendix E for details on ong>theong> analytic models). In

our multivariate analysis we use ong>theong> Match Analytic

Sample, which furong>theong>r narrows ong>theong> Match Sample by

excluding students in selective enrollment high schools

and students who only had ong>theong> lowest level of qualifications

that provided access ong>toong> two-year colleges.

These findings suggest that for students with more

modest qualifications, like Franklin, applying ong>toong>

multiple colleges is an important predicong>toong>r of match.

Students who apply ong>toong> multiple colleges may be more

likely ong>toong> match because ong>theong>y have a broader array of

choices, and ong>theong>se choices may be more likely ong>toong> include

a match school. Anoong>theong>r possible reason, building on

our findings in ong>theong> previous chapter, is that students

who apply ong>toong> multiple colleges are more likely ong>toong> be accepted

ong>toong> at least one four-year college, and acceptance

may be a barrier ong>toong> match.

Our analysis seems ong>toong> confirm this; it suggests that

most of this effect on ong>theong> likelihood of matching can

be attributed ong>toong> ong>theong> fact that more modestly qualified

students who applied ong>toong> multiple colleges were much

more likely ong>toong> be accepted inong>toong> a four-year college than

those who only applied ong>toong> few. The first bar in Figure

9 shows ong>theong> effect of applying ong>toong> multiple colleges on

ong>theong> likelihood of a student matching, not taking inong>toong>

account wheong>theong>r that student was accepted inong>toong> at least

one four-year college. The second bar shows ong>theong> effect

of applying ong>toong> multiple colleges on ong>theong> chances of a

student matching once we have controlled for wheong>theong>r

that student was accepted inong>toong> any four-year school.

Students with access ong>toong> a nonselective or somewhat

selective college who applied ong>toong> six or more four-year

colleges were 1 percentage points more likely ong>toong> match

than similar students who only applied ong>toong> two or fewer

schools. Once we control for wheong>theong>r students were

accepted at a four-year college, students who applied

ong>toong> six or more four-year colleges were still more likely

(6 percent) ong>toong> enroll in a match school than those with

similar qualifications and family background who

only applied ong>toong> two or fewer colleges. But this effect

is relatively small compared ong>toong> ong>theong> effect of multiple

applications on acceptance.

Thus, for students with more marginal qualifications,

much of ong>theong> effect that applying ong>toong> multiple

schools has on ong>theong>ir probability of matching occurs

because it increases ong>theong>ir likelihood of being accepted

ong>toong> a four-year college. In contrast, for students with

access ong>toong> selective or very selective colleges, ong>theong> number

of applications ong>theong>y submit seems ong>toong> have only a

small effect on wheong>theong>r or not ong>theong>y match. This may

in part reflect that students with higher qualifications

are not having problems getting inong>toong> four-year colleges.

As Clara’s case illustrates so vividly, if students with

high levels of qualifications are not looking beyond

ong>theong> most popular “enclave” colleges, applying ong>toong> more

of ong>theong> same type of college will not have an impact on

ong>theong>ir chances of matching.

FAFSA Completion May Be a Significant

Barrier ong>toong> Enrollment in a Match ong>Schoolong>

In ong>theong> previous chapter, one of our main findings was

that, among students who reported in May that ong>theong>y

had been accepted ong>toong> a four-year college, students who

had filled out a FAFSA were 50 percent more likely ong>toong>

Can students complete successful college searches and go on ong>toong> colleges that match ong>theong>ir qualifications

through personal motivation and hard work alone? Amelia worked as hard as can be expected in pursuit

of higher education but still encountered tremendous difficulty on ong>theong> road ong>toong> college match. See Amelia’s

case study, p. 94.

78 ong>Fromong> ong>Highong> ong>Schoolong> ong>toong> ong>theong> ong>Futureong>: ong>Potholesong> on ong>theong> Road ong>toong> College


enroll in a four-year college than those who did not.

Submitting a FAFSA—especially applying early ong>toong>

maximize ong>theong> chances of getting federal, state, and

institutional aid—may shape ong>theong> likelihood of enrolling

in a four-year college as well as ong>theong> likelihood of

matching. Indeed, a consistent ong>theong>me in our qualitative

study was a lack of FAFSA completion and concerns

about college costs. Some students who do not complete

ong>theong>ir FAFSA, like Amelia, decide ong>toong> attend a mismatch

college, in this case a two-year raong>theong>r than a four-year

college.

Figure 30 compares ong>theong> percentage of graduates

who enrolled in colleges with selectivity levels

that matched or exceeded ong>theong>ir qualifications by

wheong>theong>r students reported in June on ong>theong> Senior Exit

Questionnaire that ong>theong>y had completed a FAFSA. Of

students with access ong>toong> a selective or very selective

four-year college, 35 percent of graduates who reported

completing a FAFSA enrolled in a college that matched

ong>theong>ir qualifications versus only 15 percent who had

not completed a FAFSA. One explanation for ong>theong>se

trends, given our analysis in ong>theong> previous chapter,

is that students who do not complete ong>theong> FAFSA

may not apply ong>toong> a four-year college eiong>theong>r. However,

FAFSA completion is associated with ong>theong> likelihood

of matching after controlling for wheong>theong>r students

applied and were accepted ong>toong> a four-year college.

Figure 31 presents our results on ong>theong> impact of

FAFSA completion on students’ chances of enrolling

in a match college. 68 The first bar shows ong>theong> effect of

filing a FAFSA, controlling for ong>theong> same set of student

characteristics used in our analysis of ong>theong> impact of

multiple applications, but does not control for wheong>theong>r

students were accepted at a four-year college. The

second bar shows ong>theong> effect of FAFSA completion

controlling furong>theong>r for wheong>theong>r students were accepted

ong>toong> any four-year college. These results suggest that for

students, such as Amelia, failure ong>toong> file a FAFSA may

present a significant barrier ong>toong> enrolling in a school

that matches ong>theong>ir qualifications. These effects hold

true regardless of students’ qualifications.

In summation, ong>theong> impact of completing multiple

college applications and filing a FAFSA suggests that

effective participation in ong>theong> college search and application

process shapes students’ likelihood of matching

Figure 30. Students with more marginal qualifications were much more

Figure likely ong>toong> 30 enroll in a match school if ong>theong>y applied ong>toong> multiple colleges, in

students part because who ong>theong>y completed were more ong>theong>ir likely fafsa ong>toong> be accepted were much inong>toong> more a college? likely

ong>toong> choose a match school

Impact of completing a FAFSA on match rate:

Access ong>toong> Non- or