Education: Plans After High School
To measure the growing independence of the region’s teenagers and young people, we look at high school students’ plans after they complete high school, the number of older teens who are both out of school and out of work, and teens’ access to public transit.
Metro Boston high school graduates’ intended plans after high school varied by the racial/ethnic composition of their school by percent of district racial/ethnic students. The gap between predominantly white school districts, where the student body is more than 75% white, and relatively diverse school districts, where more than 25% of the student body is made up of members of racial and ethnic minority groups is striking. During the 2008-09 school year, a third of students in predominantly white districts planned to attend a 4-year public college, while less than a quarter of students in relatively diverse districts had the same plan. This gap was similar for those planning to attend a 4-year private college, 43% and 35%, respectively. Similarly, 20% of students in relatively diverse districts planned to attend a 2-year public college, while only 10% of students from predominantly white districts planned to attend a 2-year public college. There were little differences across district racial/ethnic composition for those planning to work or enlist in the military following graduation (less than 1 percentage point difference).
Importance and Implications
These findings tell us a lot about students’ perceptions of their options for their future paths and how they see their own potential, whether they think they can get into and succeed in a two- or four-year college, or whether they see their future path in work, the military, or another approach altogether. A heartening number of students see some amount of college in their future, but there is still far too large a gap between students in diverse school districts and students in districts that are predominantly white.
A study that took place in the Chicago Public Schools found that the single most consistent predictor of whether students took steps toward college enrollment was whether teachers pushed them to go to college, worked to ensure that students would be prepared, and were involved in supporting them in completing their college applications. This “college-going culture” particularly impacted Latino students’ decisions about their future plans.
Of course, financial feasibility is also an issue in students’ future plans. Financial concerns, whether they are a concern over student debt or a need to start earning a living immediately out of high school, can often be the reason students choose not to attend college, or to attend a two-year, rather than a four-year, institution. Given the overrepresentation of members of racial/ethnic minority groups in lower-income brackets, we can assume that the racial/ethnic gap in plans for after high school graduation has a financial component as well. With their shorter duration and lower cost, two-year community colleges can be an important bridge for young people who have ambitions of higher education but for whom finances are a major limitation. The chart shows that 2-year colleges are a critically important resource for members of racial and ethnic minority groups.