Newark students struggle to earn college degree in six years – nj spotlight

Click to expand/closeThe report, by researchers Kristi Donaldson and Jeffrey R. Backstrand, tracked some 13,500 students who graduated high school from 2011 to 2016, or about 85 percent of all Newark graduates during that period. Most attended district-run public schools, but the report also included data from vocational and technical, or “vo-tech,” high schools run by Essex County; Newark Collegiate Academy, a charter school operated by KIPP New Jersey; and St. Benedict’s Preparatory School, an all-male Catholic school. (The charter schools Mario P. Thomas, North Star Academy, and People’s Prep declined to participate, as did the parochial schools Christ the King Preparatory, Seton Hall Preparatory, and St. Vincent Academy.)

Six years after high school, 23 percent of the class of 2011 had earned a college degree or certificate — more than double the rate of the class of 2006. (Nationally, the six-year college completion rate for the class of 2011 was 57 percent.


But among high schools where most students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, the rate was closer to 19 percent, according to an analysis of the class of 2010.)

However, those rates vary sharply by sector. Three-fourths of graduates from the city’s six magnet schools, which screen applicants based on their academic records or artistic talent, immediately began college, as did 84 percent of KIPP graduates, 73 percent of St. Benedict’s graduates, and 63 percent of vo-tech graduates. Among the city’s eight traditional high schools, the rate was 40 percent.

Across school types, a growing number of students are heading to four-year colleges. Still, fewer than 10 percent make it to “highly competitive” or “very competitive” institutions, such as Rutgers University-New Brunswick or New Jersey Institute of Technology, which tend to have higher graduation rates than less competitive schools. Instead, the most common destination is Essex County College, a public two-year college based in Newark.

Enrolling in college is also no guarantee of eventually earning a diploma. Among the class of 2011, 42 percent of magnet school graduates earned a college degree or certificate within six years, as did 41 percent of St. Benedict’s graduates and 23 percent of vo-tech graduates. Only 14 percent of comprehensive-school graduates made it across the finish line.

The report does not delve into what causes so many students to fall short of a degree. But a majority of Newark students qualify as “economically disadvantaged,” according to state data, meaning they are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Research has shown that poor students are far less likely than their wealthy peers to earn college degrees — even poor students with top test scores are only as likely to finish college as affluent students with middling scores. A major hurdle

“Rigor is the problem,” said Wilhelmina Holder, president of Newark’s Secondary Parent Council, noting that many Newark students do not take college-level classes in high school. Holder, who leads a workshop at Rutgers-Newark on surviving the first year of college, said she meets students who have never seen a course syllabus or written a research paper and who struggle with reading comprehension.

Social and financial challenges trip up other students. Kei-Sygh Thomas, who graduated from KIPP’s Newark Collegiate Academy, where most students are black, had few nonHispanic white classmates before starting at Drew University, a small liberal arts school west of Newark where about half of students are white. She was also the first in her immediate family to attend college.