New Report Puts Member-Served Students’ Outcomes in Context

November 16, 2016

By Bill DeBaun, Director of Data and Evaluation

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s (NSCRC) fourth annual High School Benchmarks Report, released recently, examines the enrollment, persistence and completion outcomes of students across the country. These reports provide useful figures against which NCAN members can compare their student outcomes, especially when used in conjunction with data from NCAN’s Benchmarking Project.

Before jumping into how NCAN member programs’ outcomes compare to results from the latest report, let’s clarify some terms used by the NSCRC. “Higher-income” schools have less than 50 percent of students on free- or reduced-price lunch programs, and “low-poverty” schools have less than 25 percent of students on free- or reduced-price lunch programs. Contrast that with “low-income” schools, in which 50 percent or more of students receive free- or reduced-price lunches, and “high-poverty” schools, where the threshold is 75 percent or more. “High-minority” schools are defined as having 40 percent or more students who are Black or Hispanic.

Welcome to the NCAN blog, where we put the glossary of terms first. Now let’s move onto the results.

Examining college enrollment in the first fall following high school graduation for the Class of 2015, the NSCRC found that enrollment rates were higher for low-poverty (76%) and higher-income (69%) schools than they were for high-poverty (51%) and low-income schools (54%). Students from low-minority schools (68%) out-enrolled students from high-minority schools (57%). The chart below visualizes these results and inserts the 70-percent enrollment rate of students served by NCAN members from the Class of 2015 who participated in the Benchmarking Project. Member-served students enrolled at a higher rate than students from high-poverty, low-income, and higher-income schools, but trailed behind students from low-poverty schools. Member-served students enrolled at a rate higher than students from both high- and low-minority high schools.

The chart below should look familiar to readers of NCAN’s Benchmarking Reports. It places the NCAN enrollment rate benchmark for the Class of 2015 among 12 categories of high schools (each combination of high-minority/low-minority, higher-income/low-income, rural/suburban/urban). As in previous years, member-served students enrolled at higher rates than every category of low-income high school and most categories of higher-income high schools. Also, as in previous years, the NCAN benchmark trails that of higher-income, low-minority suburban and urban high schools. Still, members should be encouraged at this evidence that NCAN members, who predominantly serve low-income, first-generation students, many of them of color, are helping these students to achieve outcomes comparable to students from better-resourced communities with a strong expectation of college-going.

The last note about the new report and enrollment rates is that the NSCRC showed students from suburban high schools (67%) enrolled at higher rates than urban (62%) and rural (59%) students. The Benchmarking Project, to date, has not collected data on member-served student outcomes by location of high school, but this is a data point that we will collect in Round 4. This is another example of the continued refinement and improvement of the Benchmarking Project in an effort to provide more useful and contextual comparisons for members.

Considering persistence, the NSCRC identified gaps between persistence outcomes among students from different categories of high schools, although even at low-income and high-minority schools, persistence rates for students from the class of 2013 who enrolled after high school graduation were 79 and 81 percent, respectively. For the first time publicly, below we place the persistence rates of a class of member-served students against these national benchmarks. Unfortunately, it’s not quite an apples-to-apples comparison; the closest graduating year for which we have data into the second postsecondary year is from the high school class of 2011, which should be kept in mind when reviewing the chart below. Still, member-served students from the class of 2011 had second-year persistence rates higher than those of students from low-income and high-minority high schools from the class of 2013. The NCAN persistence rate trailed slightly behind that of higher-income and low-minority high schools. This again points toward NCAN members helping the students they serve to exceed expectations. A future Benchmarking Breakdown will provide persistence rates from the NCAN Benchmarking Project sample broken down by student-level demographics.

On the completion front, the NSCRC considered the college completion rates in a six-year window for the class of 2009 graduates from public non-charter schools. Here again students from high-poverty (18%) and low-income (24%) high schools trailed behind students from low-poverty (52%) and higher-income (45%) schools. Students from high-minority high schools (28%) lagged in postsecondary completion by 20 percentage points when compared with students from low-minority high schools (48%). Suburban students had the highest rates of postsecondary completion, followed by students from rural and urban schools. These completion rates are for all students included in the NSC’s StudentTracker for High Schools, not just those who had a postsecondary enrollment at some point in the six-year window, so these completion rates are a bit depressed relative to the way many NCAN members report program enrollment rates. For example, the NCAN completion benchmark for the class of 2009 is 37 percent when the denominator is all students in the sample from the class of 2009, but it jumps to 51 percent when the denominator is all students with an enrollment in the first year following high school graduation.

The chart below places this NCAN completion figure in context. The pattern should now be familiar. Students served by NCAN members in the class of 2009 completed an associate’s or bachelor’s degree at rates greatly exceeding those of students from high-poverty and low-income high schools, but the NCAN-member completion rate fell short of that of higher-income and low-poverty schools. The NCAN completion benchmark exceeded that of students from high-minority high schools but did not match that of low-minority high schools.

While the results from the NSCRC report are broadly discouraging given the enrollment, persistence, and completion gaps they highlight, these results are also unsurprising given the number of daunting obstacles that first-generation, low-income students, many of them of color, face on their path to and through college. NCAN members should be heartened by comparing these new findings against those from the Benchmarking Project. This is evidence that, given the proper supports and assistance in navigating college pathways, students served by NCAN members can succeed. Further work remains to achieve parity and close attainment gaps, and NCAN members engage in that work every day to better support critically underserved student populations.

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