Chicago Public Schools Alumni Score Record High College-Going Rate

CPS logo shown at the Chicago Public Schools headquarters.
The CPS logo is on display at the Chicago Public Schools headquarters. Bill Healy/WBEZ
CPS logo shown at the Chicago Public Schools headquarters.
The CPS logo is on display at the Chicago Public Schools headquarters. Bill Healy/WBEZ

Chicago Public Schools Alumni Score Record High College-Going Rate

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About 65 percent of students who graduate from Chicago Public Schools go on to either a two-year or four-year college, according to 2017 figures released by the school district on Monday.

This represents the most significant increase in the school district’s college enrollment rate since 2010. That college-going rate jumps higher, to 68.2 percent, when new subsets of students previously omitted are added in.

“More than two-thirds of the kids in the city of Chicago are now on their way to college or community college,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said at news conference at the West Side’s Michele Clark Magnet High School, which is beating the CPS average. “That is an incredible statement of where the Chicago Public Schools students are.”

Much of this growth is driven by enrollment in City Colleges of Chicago, which increased by 17 percent from the class of 2016 to the class of 2017. Officials point to the scholarship program that provides free tuition to CPS students with B averages at City Colleges of Chicago.

An increasing number of graduates also are coming from alternative high schools that re-enroll dropouts. In general, the students from these schools are low-performing and may not have had other options besides the open enrollment City Colleges.

School district leaders and Emanuel credit partnerships with organizations that motivate students by arranging college visits, helping them navigate the college enrollment process, and working with students in the summer after their senior year to prepare them for college.

CPS has yet to provide information on where graduates are enrolling.

The college persistence rate — which measures how many students are still enrolled their sophomore year — has hovered around 70 percent for the past eight years.

However, college graduation rates are much lower. The University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research in 2016 predicted that only 18 percent of CPS freshmen would earn a college degree by the time they are 25. That was up from 8 percent in 2006.

In the mid-2000s, Chicago Public Schools experienced a rude awakening when it first contracted with the National Student Clearinghouse to find out exactly how many of its students enrolled in college. Before that, the school district only knew what seniors told them.

School district officials found a huge difference between what students planned to do and what they actually did. The first official college enrollment rate in 2004 was just 47 percent.

For the last eight years, the college enrollment rate has been mostly inching up. And then, there was a big jump this year to 65 percent.

The higher college-going rate of 68.2 percent, also announced Monday, includes some students previously not counted. For the first time, students who enrolled in higher education in the spring semester were counted. In the past, only students who enrolled in the fall were included.

Also, schools were allowed to add students enrolled in colleges that are not picked up by the National Student Clearinghouse if they could provide proof. Notably, some historically black colleges and military service academies are not included in the clearinghouse data. Chicago public schools have an incentive to report this information because college enrollment and persistence is part of how high schools are rated by the school district.

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.