A new report says that three-quarters of Connecticut's public high school graduates go on to college -- but that only 41 percent complete a certificate or degree within six years.
Thirty-three percent enroll in college but don't finish. The other quarter don't enroll at all.
The report -- the first in the state ever to provide college completion rates by high school -- looked at the high school Class of 2004 and at how many of each school's students had completed a college program by 2010.
The students who enrolled but did not finish a college program were of particular concern, said Robert Kennedy, interim president of the state Board of Regents for Higher Education.
"What a shame, what a waste of human resources," Kennedy said. "We really need these people to be educated to the extent that they can be."
Kennedy, who is new to Connecticut, said he also expected the state's college completion rate to be higher than 41 percent.
"The 41 percent probably reflects a better-than-average college completion rate," he said, "but better than average isn't good enough."
The Board of Regents, the state Department of Education and a group called the Connecticut P-20 Council released the report, which is based on data from the National Student Clearinghouse. The P-20 council, which was established in 2009 to improve transitions from preschool through college and careers, made the request that initiated the research.
The report focuses on college completion, the executive summary says, because "while it is important for students to attend college, it is even more important for them to finish."
Statistics previously have been available that highlight various aspects of Connecticut's college graduation rates, but they have not provided the high school by high school detail found in this report.
Kennedy said that he hopes the report will prove useful to high schools and allow them to see how they compare.
"This data should really help them enormously in providing a focus on where the students are succeeding [and] where more resources are needed," he said.
Released just a week before the Jan. 5 education workshop summit that the governor called for in advance of the legislative session, the report and its statistics illuminate crucial issues that Connecticut faces to ensure that all students are well-schooled and ready to succeed in higher education and in careers.
The new data on college completion reflect the vast achievement gap seen in so many assessments of educational progress in Connecticut through the years -- between well-off and poor students, between white and minority students, between suburban and urban school districts.
In towns such as Avon, Simsbury and Glastonbury that have one high school each, the percentage of students in the Class of 2004 who completed two- or four-year college programs by 2010 was 65 percent, 64 percent and 59 percent, respectively.
By comparison, the rates at Hartford's three high schools were 14 percent (Hartford Public), 15 percent (Weaver) and 16 percent (Bulkeley). New Britain High School had a college completion rate of 29 percent.
Students need to be ready for college when they arrive -- and that preparation has to start during elementary and secondary education, Kennedy said, adding that he wants to work closely with the state's new education commissioner, Stefan Pryor, to make that happen.
The report also said that additional research was needed to understand better what makes students more likely to succeed in college.
One of the regents' goals, Kennedy said, was to make it easier for students to transfer credits from one college to another. Some colleges have standing agreements to honor credits from other institutions, Kennedy said, but "not across all campuses and not seamlessly."
Students are much more likely "to stick it out and get that associate's degree" at a community college, Kennedy said, "if they know their credits are going to transfer. ... If we could impact that [33 percent who enroll but don't finish] by 5 [percent] or 10 percent, that would be huge, and I think we can."
Braden J. Hosch, director of policy and research for the Board of Regents, said that college readiness and success involve a broad set of skills, including time management skills, financial understanding and an understanding of college culture.
"It's not just the stuff we are measuring on CAPTs," Hosch said, referring to the Connecticut Academic Performance Test given in high school.
Hosch said the report shows that students are much more likely to complete a degree or certificate program if they enroll directly after high school, rather than delaying.
Asked how Connecticut's college completion rates compare with other states, Hosch said that no average national college completion figure is available that compares directly to the 41 percent for Connecticut.
The best comparison, he said, comes from figures based on the U.S. Census that show that 46 percent of Connecticut's 25- to 34-year-olds have completed an associate's degree or higher.
"That ranked us No. 7 out of 50 states," Hosch said. The average was 39.1 percent. But Connecticut does not do so well on a scale that considers how rapidly each state is improving its college graduation rate. On that scale, Hosch said, Connecticut ranks 34th of 50 states.
The report echoed that concern, noting that the state's "level of educational attainment shows signs of slipping compared to other states."
President Barack Obama has set a goal, Hosch said, to have 60 percent of young people completing a degree or obtaining a certificate following high school.
"We want to build partnerships between community colleges, four-year colleges and high schools," Hosch said. "Getting early childhood involved, I think, is another piece. What we recognize is that these systems work better when they are not isolated from each other."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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