College and career: Two sides of the same coin

The bad news: Nationally, college persistence rates – the rate at which students return to college for a second year – are down 1.2 percentage points from 2009, according to a report released last week by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The percentage may sound small, but on an enrollment of 3.1 million students, that means 37,000 students who were not enrolled last fall would have been under the 2009 rate.

The report didn’t hypothesize on what might have driven the dip, although a story in Inside Higher Ed pointed out that the economic recession might have caused some students to choose employment over education.

A dip in the college persistence rate flies in the face of the increased focus on college success spearheaded by the Obama Administration, the Lumina Foundation, and Mass Insight Education, among others. And it could spell long-range trouble on the employment front given that the Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce is projecting that 65 percent of the jobs created by 2020 will require at least some post-secondary education.

The good news: It is possible to move the needle on college persistence. Studies have found that students who take advanced math and sciences courses in high school are more likely to earn higher scores on academic assessments. They’re more likely to both enroll in and graduate from college and – most critically for the future of our STEM economy – they are also more likely to pursue a STEM degree.  And for those concerned about the arts, advanced courses in English/Language Arts lay the foundation for skills students need to succeed in the sciences.

Over the past six years, Mass Insight Education has partnered with more than 70 high schools across Massachusetts on its College Success/AP program, a program designed to increase participation and performance in AP math, science and English courses with the ultimate goal of increasing college success.

And as a research brief we published earlier this year found, the program works: students who took at least one AP course through the program are enrolling and persisting in college at rates higher than the state average.

Mass Insight is working to expand the impact of this program by launching College Success Communities in several districts across Massachusetts, Louisiana, and Rhode Island.