Less than 1/3 of Chicago grads complete college in expected 4 years

Less than 1/3 of Chicago grads complete college in expected 4 years

Research finds less than one-third of Chicago Public Schools graduates earned their bachelor’s degree in the expected four years compared to nearly half nationally. That means more are likely to live in poverty.

Many Chicago Public Schools graduates are struggling to finish college in four years – just 30% get their bachelor’s in four years compared to 47% nationally, a study by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research found.

That means most face extra tuition costs and delayed entry into jobs.

The poor college performance shows Chicago Public Schools is not producing high school graduates who are ready for college, so their opportunities and life outcomes are at greater risk. Low rates of proficiency plague CPS high school students, where just 22% of 11th grade students were proficient in reading in 2023 and 19% in math, according to the Illinois State Board of Education report card.

Yet graduation rates in CPS continue to rise despite these low rates of proficiency among high school students. Whether CPS has given graduates much opportunity for success is questionable: how can they succeed with such low rates of proficiency in reading and math?

Young Chicagoans need college degrees to thrive. If they finish college, they are four times less likely to live in poverty than their peers who drop out of high school.

Few CPS graduates earn bachelors in four years

The study by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research investigated the four-year and six-year college completion trends for CPS graduates in the class of 2004 through 2014. The research showed only 30% of CPS graduates earned their bachelor’s in the expected four years. This is lower than the national rate of 47%.

Most CPS students needed more than four years – or eight terms – to complete their bachelor’s degrees. There were 67% who needed one to two extra terms to complete their degrees, while 12% needed three to four extra terms, or up to two additional years.

How education impacts Chicago poverty

Educational attainment isn’t the sole solution to poverty, but statistics show an individual’s increasing educational attainment can effectively reduce the likelihood of falling into poverty.

Research shows every level of education a person completes improves lifetime earnings, plus median earnings improve.

Educational attainment increases access to higher-paying jobs and is associated with a greater likelihood of employment – one of the greatest determinants of poverty. That means those with higher levels of education often get better, higher-paying jobs and experience bouts of unemployment at a much lower rate.

Poverty rates drop precipitously with each higher level of educational attainment, in large part because of these effects.

Those without a high-school diploma face poverty rates more than four times higher than those with bachelor’s degrees. Nearly 27% of Chicagoans without a high school diploma are in poverty, compared to 21.5% with a high school diploma and 6.5% with a bachelor’s degree.

Low proficiency and high graduation rates

CPS celebrated a record-high graduation rate in 2023, but there is a disconnect between student proficiency and the graduation rate.

The class of 2023 took the state-required SAT in their junior year in spring 2022. On that assessment, just 21% could read or perform math at grade level. Yet one school year later, Chicago celebrated an 84% graduation rate for their senior class.

While there is reason to celebrate the increased graduation rates in CPS for future earnings potential, there remains concern about the quality of CPS students’ learning before graduation and their preparation for college coursework.

The discrepancies between proficiency rates and graduation rates in CPS are cause for concern over social promotion and grade inflation. In CPS, higher grades are being awarded for less achievement in schools, helping to hide students’ struggles since the pandemic. Meanwhile, teachers unions push for fewer accountability measures, further withering the needed emphasis on academic excellence.

CPS should deliver high school diplomas and academic preparedness

CPS ought not celebrate rising graduation rates unless those rates coincide with significantly rising proficiency. It is a disservice to simply graduate students without making sure they have learned core skills such as reading and math and are ready for the workplace or higher education.

Giving out diplomas as if they were participation medals will only make the city’s high poverty rate worse and make life harder for its young adults.

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