Few can argue that college completion rates are depressingly low. Just 35 percent of the 4.1 million students entering high school will go on to earn a college degree. Luckily, pursuing a rigorous academic curriculum in high school (as set forth in Governor Taft's Ohio Core plan) greatly increases the likelihood high school students will obtain a college degree.

Yet it still may not be enough for low-income children. While over 60 percent of academically prepared higher-income students finish college, just 20 percent of similarly prepared low-income earn a bachelor's degree. And those that graduate do so at less selective colleges with less support and fewer prospects for academic success.

The Bridgespan Group's new report examines key factors that, when coupled with rigorous academic preparation, improve low-income students' prospects for finishing college. First among them is a student's expectation that he or she must attend college to pursue a planned career. Consider that low-income students who make the connection between college and career goals are six times more likely to finish college than those who don't. Other important factors are student peer cultures and knowledge of college requirements, including long-term financial commitments.

Sadly, college access supports, especially those supporting academic preparedness, are not widespread among low-income youth. While 52 percent of surveyed low-income eighth-graders expected to go to college, only 23 percent intended to pursue a college-prep curriculum in high school.

In addition to adopting and implementing a college-ready curriculum, recommendations for schools include creating a "college-going" culture--akin to what many KIPP schools do (see here and here)--and providing the infrastructure to aid students' transition to a college-ready curriculum. 

Ohio looks set to bolster its high school curriculum requirements with passage of the Ohio Core. School leaders and educators must supply the key supports low-income students need to meet them.

To read the report, click here.

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