Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Early Planning, Later Success

Gwen sent me this research brief of an interesting study -- The Effects of Students’ Middle-School and High-School Experiences on Completion of the Bachelor’s Degree: How Can School Counselors Make a Difference?

The study followed over 5,000 college-bound 8th Graders for 12 years and found that eight years after high school, 53% of participants had realized their goals of completing the bachelors and 47% had not. The researchers found that there were a few main variables from middle school and high school that "predicted" later success in completing degrees:
• The strongest effects were from the academically intensive science and math courses that participants took in high school. For example, when students added one high-school unit in intensive math (Algebra 2, trigonometry, pre-calculus, or calculus), their likelihood of completing the bachelor’s increased by 73%. Adding one unit in intensive science (biology, chemistry, or physics) increased the likelihood of completing the degree by 45%.
• The effects of intensive course-taking extended well beyond the effects of eighth-grade reading and math ability. That is, the intensive science and math courses that students completed in high school were more important to degree completion than the levels of ability they brought to high school.
• Socioeconomic status (SES) had a strong effect. A one-standard-deviation increase in SES increased the likelihood of degree completion by 62%.
• Students’ good attendance behavior in high school (not skipping school or classes) had a positive effect on degree completion.
• When students participated more in school-sponsored extracurricular activities, they were more likely to complete the bachelor’s degree.
• There was a moderate gender effect. Women were more likely than men to complete the bachelor’s degree.
• Asian Americans and White Americans were more likely than Latinos or African Americans to complete the bachelor’s.
• When parents were more involved in their children’s education and when parents had higher postsecondary educational expectations for their children, young people were more likely to complete the bachelor’s.
• Eighth-grade reading ability had a modest, positive effect on degree completion.
The second part of the brief focuses on strategies for guidance counsellors and other educators to help students avoid pitfalls and take advantage of this knowledge. I thought this one was most interesting:
2. Develop and use an effective system for individual education-career planning.
a. Help every student develop an appropriate, written (electronic or printed) education-career plan. In schools where student-to-counselor ratios are high, use guidance as a format for developing plans.
b. Pay particular attention to students’ long-term education-career goals and the degree of consistency between goals and academic effort.
c. Inform students of various postsecondary education-career options; and when appropriate, help students develop back-up plans (alternative plans).
d. Include parent and teacher input into education-career planning.
e. Use students’ education-career plans as a means for helping them become involved in rewarding extracurricular activities.
I don't think many of these things are done in any systematic way in most schools. The most college-focused middle and high schools in wealthier neighbourhoods may require very specific post-secondary education plans, but usually without reference to career possibilities or other future goals. You'd think they'd be more interested in this stuff...or maybe they're interested, but don't know how to go about it? Also, this focus on the four-year degree as the only path worth pursuing is obviously limited, but it represents the perception of the majority of high school students right now.

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