Closing the College Graduation Gap

By Nicholas Brock

A recent paper published by the National College Access Network (NCAN) and the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center analyzed the rates of postsecondary access and success of NCAN students. NCAN is a nonprofit founded to share best practices and spread college access and success services across the country. Their goal is to strengthen communities committed to college success so all students, especially underrepresented students, can attend college. NCAN is made up of hundreds of members across the country from youth mentoring programs to public school districts to local scholarship providers.

Preliminary results indicate that students from NCAN-member programs (typically low-income, first generation students of color) meet or exceed national averages for college enrollment and completion, challenging the belief that poor and minority students are destined to have lower postsecondary attainment rates. In fact, college enrollment rates for NCAN students were comparable to students who attended higher income high schools.

Using data provided by 24 NCAN member programs, the paper calculated the percentage of students who enrolled in college at any point in the first year after high school graduation from 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2013. Among the report’s findings:

  • The first-year postsecondary enrollment rates for the 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2013 NCAN cohorts were 71%, 70%, 70% and 65%, respectively, which were near to or exceeded first-year enrollment rates of schools with predominantly high-income students. – For example, the 2012 college enrollment rate at high-income, low-minority, suburban high schools was 77%, at high-income, low-minority, urban high schools was 76% and at high-income, low-minority rural high schools was 69%.
  • The six-year college completion rate for the 2007 NCAN cohort was 54.8%; compared to the national college completion rate of 59.7%.
    • Given that the average college completion rate for low-income, first generation students is 45.3%, the paper argues that NCAN programs are having a real impact on disadvantaged students.