New NSC Data Offers College Completion Comparisons

October 25, 2017

By Bill DeBaun, Director of Data and Evaluation 

Just one in five graduates from high-poverty high schools obtains a postsecondary degree or credential. For graduates from low-income high schools, that figure is one in four.

These sobering figures come from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s newly released High School Benchmarks 2017 report. The fifth in a series, the report provides critical insight into the enrollment, persistence, and completion outcomes of students, categorized by high school characteristics, and it serves as a crucial comparison point for both NCAN members and NCAN's Benchmarking Project.

The descriptive study covers 40 percent of annual high school graduates and 71 of the 100 largest school districts. Although the authors are careful to note that the sample is not nationally representative (mostly due to an overrepresentation of students in urban high schools), its large sample including data from all 50 states is valuable nonetheless. In particular, the report’s data shine a flashlight on sizable equity gaps that exist between different categories of high school across the country.

Some notes on high school classification:

  • High-poverty high schools have free- or reduced-price lunch (FRPL) rates of 75 percent or greater. Low-income high schools’ FRPL rates are 50 percent or greater. Contrast these with low-poverty high schools (<25% FRPL) and higher-income high schools (<50% FRPL).
  • High-minority schools are defined as having at least 40 percent Black or Hispanic students.

The chart below shows the enrollment rate equity gap. There is a 25-percent gap between the highest- and lowest-poverty high schools. A smaller but still troubling gap of 12 percent exists between high- and low-minority high schools.

The gaps are even starker when examining six-year completion rates.

Not even comparing students on the extremes of the poverty distribution, students from higher-income high schools complete college at a rate nearly double that of students from low-income high schools. Students from low-minority high schools are 67 percent more likely to complete college.

The release of the High School Benchmarks 2017 report allows NCAN to update the data from our own Closing the College Graduation Gap: 2017 National College Access and Success Benchmarking Report. At the time of this report’s release, NCAN had to compare member-served students from the high school class of 2010 to NSC’s data on the class of 2009. Now we can update our charts and compare students from the same graduating class.

Comparing students graduating from the class of 2010, 36 percent of NCAN member-served students from low-income high schools completed a degree or credential within six years compared to 25 percent in the NSC sample, an improvement of nearly 50 percent. Although this is not an apples-to-apples comparison, NCAN’s low-income high school completion rate is 89 percent higher than NSC’s rate for high-poverty high schools. Note that these rates are not completion rates for students with a postsecondary enrollment but instead for all graduates from that class. Although we would surely like completion rates to be universally higher for low-income students, the fact that member-served students outperform their peers is encouraging and demonstrates that, given the proper supports for college access and success, our students can and do succeed.

Comparing high-minority, low-income high schools, NCAN member-served students again outperform their peers in terms of college completion, 35 percent to 24 percent.

NCAN will examine the enrollment outcomes for students from the class of 2016 in the next round of the Benchmarking Project, at which point we will be able to compare those outcomes with NSC’s latest report.

Members should bookmark this report, as well as the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center in general, for reliable, timely comparisons of students’ postsecondary outcomes. Not only do these reports provide evidence of the continued need for college access and success supports for students, they also offer data to which programs can compare their own outcomes.

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