Monday, June 14, 2010

How important is college acceptance as a metric?

A lot of schools crow that [insert number above 90 here] percent of their students were accepted at a four-year college. Getting accepted to college is definitely one step better than just graduating high school, unless we are talking about open admissions schools, in which case an acceptance letter is no greater signifier than a diploma (unless it is paired with a completed FAFSA and registration for the fall semester).

I assume that some places that use acceptance as a milestone have internal research showing whether their students actually matriculate and succeed in college. I hear the data coming back is not always great. It is good to celebrate levels of accomplishment exceeding what was previously attained, but journalists (and researchers) need to ask what happens next.


  1. Do you really think it's safe to assume that schools are somehow tracking whether their students succeed in college and graduate? That research would require considerable resources. Public schools can't devote that kind of resources, and is it even worth it to private schools? And charters -- well, see below.

    Reporters need to understand some of the issues here, too. The big obvious one is money. Most middle-class families have to base their college choices on finances, and that means they are likely to consider that in deciding where to apply to college, too.
    And that goes for low-income families too, except for the inspiring superstars who are attractive enough to colleges to get full rides, and who were lucky enough to get strong college counseling in high school.

    College counseling is a huge factor -- I can't say that forcefully enough. Here in the San Francisco Unified School District, college counseling is catch-as-catch-can from high school to high school.

    As I've posted here before, there's a much-hyped chain of charter high schools based here in San Francisco, Envision Schools. Their policy is to proudly give no grades lower than a C. This gives their students a big artificial boost in their college applications. Do you think Envision wants to track how well its alumni do in college, given the artificial boost their students got in getting in? I'd guess they have better things to do with their resources.

  2. Agreed that it's a burden on individual schools. But many state longitudinal data systems either have now or will soon have the ability to provide information on college outcomes, such as whether the student needed to take remedial courses or made it through the first year in good standing. We should be providing this type of information back to schools and policymakers. My colleague Chad Aldeman has been researching this subject and shows how states can use newly available data to create richer, more accurate, more multi-dimensional measures of high school success.

  3. Yes, Chad's report is really good; anyone interested in this topic should read it.

  4. To respectfully disagree with the comment from Caroline above, Envision Schools is conducting, in conjunction with the Stanford School Redesign Network, a long term study of its alumni in college. Envision and SRN recently presented three year's worth of the study's results at the AERA conference and the paper is widely available. 94% of Envision's class of 2008 re-enrolled in their second year of college.

    I agree wholeheartedly that college success, and not just access, is something that needs to be closely monitored as more and more schools of all types makes these claims. There need to be more studies like the one above being conducted by Envision - studies that disaggregate the data and are long term - for the sake of the advancement of the field as a whole.