Half of city's 2007 graduates enroll in college

  • By Paul D. Bowker
  • Education reporter
  • May 15, 2008 @ 11:00 AM

A growing percentage of Chicago high school graduates are enrolling in college, city officials announced this week, marking four years of improved enrollment rates.

Half of the city's 17,669-member 2007 graduating class enrolled in a two- or four-year college since graduating, an increase of 2.1 percent over 2006 and a 6.5 percent improvement in four years, according to statistics compiled by the National Student Clearinghouse, a non-profit organization that Chicago Public Schools uses to track enrollment.

The rate of improvement places the city above national increase averages of 1.4 percent since 2006 and 0.5 percent over four years.

Still, the city's overall enrollment rate lags behind the national average reported by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, which shows 67.2 percent of last year's high school graduates enrolled in colleges or universities.

Mayor Richard M. Daley and Chicago Public Schools officials made the announcement Tuesday at John Hope College Prep High School at 5515 South Lowe Ave., which has seen an increase of 20.6 percent in the number of its graduates attending college since 2004.

Three Hope graduates this year won Gates Millennium Scholarships, which pay for complete college educations, including post-graduate work.

"It's important for us to understand that graduating high school is no longer the finish line it once was," Daley said.

"Forty or fifty years ago, a high school diploma better guaranteed a good job and success in life. In today's global economy, however, while having a high school diploma is still essential, it is simply not enough for many professions."

Since 2004, when the city began tracking, Chicago's high schools have outperformed the nation in terms of percentage gains, according to the NSC.

While the number of African-American high school graduates going on to college nationally has decreased by 5.9 percent since 2004, Chicago's rate has increased by 7.9 percent, helping to close a gap. The number of Latino students going on to college from Chicago has increased 5.5 percent, while the national average went up 2 percent.

The largest percent of college enrollees within the city come from selective-enrollment high schools.

Of last year's graduates of selective-enrollment schools, 2,052 graduates,  or 78.1 percent, enrolled in college. Among public high schools that are not charters, magnets or military academies, 4,447 graduates enrolled in college, or 45.7 percent.

But CPS officials say they do not yet know how many of the city's high school graduates manage to earn a college degree because tracking began only two years ago.

College retention rates, the CPS says, will be available later this year.

Chicago Public Schools District 299 is one of 11 school districts in Illinois that use the National Student Clearinghouse to obtain enrollment information. The Clearinghouse tracks more than 3,100 colleges for admission officials, school districts and the U.S. Department of Education, among other agencies.

The fact that the CPS research about college enrollments only goes back to 2004 was troubling to Julie Woesehoff, executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE), a parents' advocacy group.

"We don't know where we started from," she says.

CPS officials point proudly to a 29.8 percent jump in city students attending Big Ten Conference universities and a 9.8 percent jump in attendance at historically black colleges and universities.

"Our post-secondary department has developed a lot of great programs in a short time to help more of our students realize the dream of getting a college education," says Arne Duncan, CPS chief.

According to the Clearinghouse report, the greatest college-enrollment increases among Chicago graduates came from students holding grade-point averages of between 2.0 and 3.0. The city saw a 7.6 percent college-enrollment increase from students holding a 2.5 to 2.9 GPA; and a 6.3 percent increase from students holding a 2.0 to 2.4 GPA.

Paul Bowker, a Chicago-area journalist with 25 years of experience, covers Chicago Public Schools for the Daily News.