Photo: Tyler Sizemore, Staff Photographer
Less than half of Houston ISD seniors started classes in a community college, vocational school or four-year university the fall after they were expected to graduate, a new study from Rice University’s higher education research consortium found.
The study, by postdoctoral fellow Brian Holzman, found that starting college immediately after high school was associated with higher rates of certificate, diploma and degree completion. Less than a third of HISD students earned any kind of degree or certificate within six years of high school, the report found.
Holzman tracked HISD high school students who started their senior years in 2006, 2007 and 2008. He examined disparities in college enrollment and completion trends for the report. He notes that after his last cohort left high school, HISD hired college success advisers to help high school seniors with college applications and financial aid forms.
Among his findings:
- For every 100 HISD high-school seniors, the report found, 19 completed a bachelor’s degree six years after high school.
- Hispanic students disproportionately attended community colleges or technical and vocational schools.
- About two-thirds of Hispanic students did not enroll in college in the fall after expected high-school graduation. That figure was 26 percent for white students.
- About 85 percent of students who made it to college stayed enrolled one year after they matriculated.
He spoke to the Houston Chronicle about gaps between Hispanic and white students, the ability to transfer from a community college and his recommendations going forward for the nation’s seventh-largest school district. Excerpts of his interview with Chronicle higher education reporter Lindsay Ellis follow:
Q: What was the most surprising finding, in your mind?
A: The large Hispanic-white gap, even when you account for other background characteristics. In other data sets I’ve used, that are nationally representative, oftentimes those relationships, those racial gaps, disappear when you account for socioeconomic status and measures of academic performance. Here in Houston, they did not for Hispanics (who enrolled in college anytime in the first six years after high school). They did for blacks, for the most part, and for Asians. They weren’t significant white-Asian gaps.
For Hispanics, it was large and persistent. That doesn’t mean that Hispanics don’t want to go to college. It just means that there’s something to that gap that we’re not explaining with our data. We need to figure that out. Maybe we’re not capturing immigration as well. Students who have immigrant parents may have less of an understanding of the U.S. higher education system.
Q: What about for the students who enrolled right after high school?
A: If you only look at the kids that did enroll right after high school – and then look at completion six years after high school – just those immediate college enrollees, there wasn’t really much of a white-Hispanic gap in completion. That says to me that immediate college enrollment might be one strategy that the district could pursue — to enter college right after high school, when they’re in that academic mindset, before other stuff in life happens. When you’re out of school, you start working – maybe you like your job, you have a family. It’s harder to go back when you’re out of the educational pipeline.
Q: You found that if students started at a four-year institution versus a two-year institution, the ones who started at a four-year institution had higher completion rates than those who started at a vocational school or community college.
Can those differences be attributed to a student’s socioeconomic status?
A: I didn’t control for stuff with that statistic. But I know in other research, other research does look at (that question).
Community college is often thought of as a pathway to a four-year college. Kids may choose it because it’s cheaper, maybe they want to live closer to home. But there’s pretty significant research that shows that starting at a community college has negative affects on earning a four-year degree. Some of it is attributable to students’ background characteristics. They have socioeconomic challenges. They want to live at home. They want to work part time.
But at the same time, I think a lot of it is on the institutional side. Four-year colleges, especially private colleges, have a lot more resources. They have writing centers. Living on campus is a good thing for academic engagement. There’s not as much of a support network for kids in community colleges.
Q: The study you did came before HISD put in place the advising program you mention specifically. What’s happened since then?
A: Another researcher is working on an evaluation of the College Success Advising program. It’s still early to tell the results. They’ve only got one year of data of the initiative. There will be a brief coming up in the next few months about that. They didn’t see a whole lot of gains in overall enrollment rates, but they did see kids shift from two- to four-year degrees.
Q: What else do you recommend?
A: Starting earlier, getting students to think about college earlier, and then helping them take the coursework to get there, it would be helpful.
Trying to identify ways to reduce the racial ethnic gap particularly for Hispanics. Figuring out ways to address that community’s concerns, doing more outreach to the Hispanic community. There may be immigrants. They may not have the information or may require additional personal assistance in the application process. Finding better ways to reach out to racial and ethnic groups and adjust to their unique needs.
Read the full study here.