Poor graduation rates focus of public inquiry

Sophia Lopez, Writer

Members of the Coalition for Latino Success at NEIU hosted a public inquiry on Sept.12 in Alumni Hall to address the low college graduation rates of students who attended Chicago Public Schools (CPS). State Senator Miguel del Valle, himself a graduate from NEIU, and State Representative Cynthia Soto presided over the meeting.

The Consortium on Chicago School Research published a recent study entitled, “From High School to the Future: A first look at Chicago Public School graduates’ college enrollment, college preparation, and graduation from four-year colleges.”

The study shows that CPS graduates struggle to obtain degrees from four-year universities. Moreover, almost half of CPS students never actually graduate from high school to begin with.

CPS students graduate with low ACT scores and GPAs. The average ACT score of a CPS student is 17.1 and is lower than the average for the entire state of Illinois. The report shows that the largest gap in the college attendance rates of CPS graduates versus graduates elsewhere occurs among Latino students.

These students usually attend two-year and non-selective four-year colleges. The study reports that Latino graduates are the least likely to go to college, and female graduates have a higher college attendance rate than males. It also notes that few CPS graduates leave Illinois to attend college.

Northeastern Illinois University is a federally designated Hispanic-serving institution. Almost half of its 12, 200 students attend part-time.

According to the federal Department of Education, only 17 percent of NEIU students who enroll as full-time freshmen graduate within six years. Almost 30 percent of NEIU’s student body is Hispanic.

“They have families to support,” said President Steinberg. Of course it will take longer for those students to graduate, she added.

NEIU students are oftentimes first-generation college students and have a less academically challenging high school education than their peers, says the study. Many students at NEIU are low-income, have children, are older, and work full-time.

Melissa Roderick, the co-director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research, asked, “If you’re accepting a child into your institution, don’t you have the responsibility to make sure they graduate?”

A recent New York Times article said that such numbers have stirred a fierce debate as to who is to blame for these results and whether they are acceptable for nontraditional students. Furthermore, the central question remains as to how universities are to be held accountable if the vast majority of its students do not graduate.

Many educators say that programs which mentor and tutor nontraditional students are critical for their success. In her interview with The New York Times, NEIU President Salme Steinberg explained that such programs are expensive, and that the state’s contribution to public universities has declined by 16 percent in the past four years.

Professor Victor Ortiz, chair of the Latino studies program and member of the Coalition for Latino Success at NEIU, felt the public inquiry was a great opportunity to generate a consensus in how to increase the graduation success of Latino students. He said he believes this goal calls for a comprehensive strategy in which diverse concerns, perspectives and situations are understood.

“We have a lot at stake here,” commented Senator Miguel del Valle. What follows, he said, is how to take those words and translate them into concrete action.