Study shows IB programs boost college attendance for low-income students

6/22/2016

There is new evidence that high-caliber high school curriculums, like that of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, may be part of a real solution to underperformance among low-income students. About 60 percent of IB programs nationwide are located in Title I schools, which receive various degrees of federal funding if at least half of the students attending qualify for free or reduced lunch. A recent study conducted by the research branch of the IB provides some powerful evidence that low-income students in American Title I schools do not always attend college at lower rates than their peers with more resources. 

A whopping 79 percent of low-income IB students in Title I high schools are immediately enrolling in colleges or universities after graduation, compared to 82 percent of IB students of all income levels. The gravity of these numbers becomes a lot clearer when they are compared with the national rate at which low-income students go to college — 46 percent — and the rate at which all students go to college, which is 66 percent. Check out the data visualization below for more details.

This means that low-income IB students go to college 13 percent more than average-income students and at nearly twice the rate of all low-income students nationwide.

Moreover, the study results show that 85 percent of African-American IB students in Title I schools across all income levels go to college immediately after high school (82 percent for Hispanic IB students in Title I schools and 83 percent for White IB students in Title I schools). Educational outcomes that show African-American students as the highest achievers in going to college are a big deal, since in general, African-American students have the lowest college enrollment rate of all races and lag significantly in most education statistics.

The relatively equal performance of IB students in Title I schools across race and income is big news. Low-income students, who in the study are characterized as students who receive free or reduced lunch, have chronically reduced access to resources in the form of both social and financial support compared to other students. It isn’t just that their families have less money to create educational opportunities, it’s often that they have less time to help their children be prepared for school. While this is not always the case (think the rich kid whose parents are wealthy workaholics), the fact remains that lower income is associated with a significant decrease in children’s school readiness and ability. Consequently, low-income students lack the guidance and support they need to prepare for college

The fact that IB kids in Title I schools have high rates of college attendance regardless of their race or socioeconomic situation is essentially unheard of in education. Even better is that academic benefits are present without being enrolled in the full IB diploma program. Simply taking one IB class is enough to increase long-term academic outcomes.

However, only one-third of low-income students will have the opportunity to become a part of the IB program, partly because of tough admissions requirements and partly because most students do not apply for entry. As a result, many low-income students do not get a chance to become part of those high rates of college enrollment. Expansion of IB programs and increasing the awareness of IB programs as a high school option that truly prepares students to attend college are some smart steps in increasing college opportunity for low-income students and bringing equity to college enrollment.

The IB program is billed as a rigorous, liberal-arts college prep curriculum that focuses on developing critical and independent thinking, academic curiosity, and a well-rounded knowledge base. Based on the data presented by this study, as well as my own experience as an IB student at a Title I school, this vision is exactly what IB programs consistently deliver. Currently, IB programs are available in 5 Duval County high schools, Ed White (Title I), Paxon, Samuel W. Wolfson (Title I), Stanton, and Terry Parker (Title I), but could be further expanded by future boundary changes.

Follow these links for more information about increasing college opportunity for low-income students and the International Baccalaureate Organization

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