By Lesley Lydell, January guest blogger
As in many other states, Minnesota postsecondary education faces an array of challenges, from decreased funding and rising costs to rapidly expanding worlds of knowledge transmission, the changing demands of the “knowledge economy,” and an uncertain employment world for graduates. Within these challenges, one central concern we focus on in my office is whether students participate in postsecondary education and what helps them succeed, both during their education and beyond. Although students increasingly enter postsecondary education at various times throughout their lives, the transition of recent high school graduates into postsecondary education offers one lens on how educational systems can collaborate to serve students.
In the revised edition of Minnesota Measures: 2011 Report on Higher Education Performance, data on students’ preparation for and entrance into postsecondary education illustrate positive trends but also point to ongoing challenges.
Postsecondary Preparation: Minnesota high school students overall have strong participation and achievement in challenging academic courses and assessments. Minnesota students received the highest scores in the nation on a standardized college entrance exam, and increasing numbers of students are participating in college-level courses through Advanced Placement courses, Postsecondary Enrollment Options, and other programs. The number of students participating in Postsecondary Enrollment Options programs has more than doubled since 2000, and the number of students taking Advanced Placement exams rose 8% between 2009-10 and 2010-11.
High School to Postsecondary Transition: Compared to the national average, Minnesota high school students have a high four-year graduation rate at 76% for 2010. Minnesota also has a higher-than-average percentage of high school graduates who go on to enroll in a postsecondary institution within a year of their graduation.
Unlike in states with a high percentage of high school graduates who enroll in a postsecondary institution but also a higher rate of students who drop out of high school before graduation, a larger proportion of Minnesotans stay in high school, graduate, and enter directly into higher education. For all Minnesota high school graduates, the number going on to college has increased by 15% between 1996 and 2010 to 71% of recent graduates enrolling in college. There have also been sizeable increases in the numbers of recent Minnesota high school graduates of color enrolled at a Minnesota postsecondary institution, with a 49% increase in enrollment between 2004 and 2010.
- Although all groups of students had higher graduation rates in 2010 over the previous year, with a 1% increase in high school graduation rates for white students and a three percent increase for students of color, the four-year graduation rate for students of color was 30 percentage points lower than the rate for white students.
- State-level proficiency exam scores in 2011 for 10th and 11th grade students indicated achievement differences for students from low-income backgrounds and some students of color, with approximately three-quarters of students from low-income backgrounds and American Indian, Hispanic, and African-American students not fully meeting grade-level standards in math.
- College readiness benchmarks on the ACT college entrance exam indicated just over one-third of Minnesota’s ACT test-takers for 2010-11 scored as academically prepared to succeed in higher education. Although there has been some improvement in ACT benchmark scores since 2007, Minnesota students of color overall scored as less prepared than the state average.
- The percentage of Advanced Placement exams that received scores eligible for college credit (scores 3-5) increased at a higher rate between 2010 and 2011 for Minnesota test-takers of color than the state and national average increases, with the largest increase in higher-scoring exams taken by Hispanic test-takers. Overall, however, the percentage of exams taken by American Indian, African-American/Black, and Hispanic test-takers receiving a score eligible for college credit was below the state average of 65% of all exams taken.
Although there are positive trends in improving preparation for and participation in postsecondary education for all students, there are areas for added focus and collaboration as we work to better serve students and smooth the transitions between high school, postsecondary, and the workforce.
What are the most promising strategies you’re aware of in improving students’ postsecondary preparation and participation — locally, nationally, internationally?