Exploring College Readiness in Duval High Schools

5/31/2016

Just how important is it to get into college these days? Unsurprisingly, it’s more important than ever. From 1980 to 2005, the U.S. college wage premium, or the amount wages increase on average due to having a college degree, have increased from 40 percent to 90 percent. In Florida in particular, earnings for a high school graduate can increase from $19,884 to $35,000 with a Bachelor’s degree from a state university. Unemployment for college grads is also much lower than for students with just a high school degree. 

But there are still many barriers, especially financial, for high school students who want a college education. One major obstacle, the price of tuition, can be combatted with scholarships like Bright Futures, not to mention the myriad of scholarships available for nontraditional college students. However, only 24% of Florida’s 12th graders filled out the FAFSA — required for financial aid of any kind — this year. The point is, there is a lot to gain from graduating college, and too many students still miss out.

How likely students are to attend college — and be ready to succeed in their college coursework — depends a lot on their high school. This begs the question: Which of Duval County’s public high schools are giving their students the best opportunities to succeed by continuing their academic career? Using the most current data available from the Florida Department of Education, we can explore how Duval County’s major high schools stack up in preparing today’s young people to matriculate at an institution of higher education. Five readily available, state-collected measures of how likely students are to attend college were assessed for each high school:

  1. The percent of past graduates who continued their education by enrolling in any higher education institution,

  2. Out of those graduates who enrolled in a higher education institution, the percent who enrolled in a public or private university, as opposed to a state college,

  3. The average SAT score out of 1600 (Math and Verbal),

  4. The average ACT Composite Score out of 36, and

  5. The percent of AP exams taken that received passing scores.

Each school was ranked in each of these 5 measures, with their average rank determining their overall college readiness rank. To view the school’s overall college readiness performance, as well as their performance levels in the individual college readiness component measures, please see the data visualization at the end of this post. 

It’s worth mentioning here that, although SAT and ACT scores are routinely used by colleges to determine admission, there are growing questions about how predictive these tests truly are on their own.

It’s no surprise that Duval’s perennially high-performing college-focused academic magnet high schools, Stanton and Paxon, were ranked highly for college readiness within Duval County. Stanton was recently ranked the 31st best high school in the country, and the 7th best in the state. Paxon was ranked 122nd best high school in the country and the 13th best in the state. Although both Stanton and Paxon are located in Jacksonville’s Northside, the fact that they are dedicated magnet schools means that they draw high-performing students from across the county and are not representative of the historically low-income neighborhoods in which they are located. Attempting to create high-performing magnets that can compete with the county’s very best schools, but at the cost of potentially ousting students from the school closest to their home, is a difficult wrinkle in the college-readiness landscape. Achieving balance here has been, and will likely continue to be, a point of contention.

As long as the importance for students to attend a higher education institution remains a prerequisite for jobs in most industries, high schools must evolve their priorities to make sure as many students as possible are prepared to take another step in their education. High schools like Stanton and Paxon are helping many Duval students enroll in higher education, but our community must also focus on getting all Duval high schools up to muster in granting students access to higher education. Models for success despite the odds that address the deeper issues holding students back from college are worth learning from as we plan to prepare students for a brighter future. 

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