Minn. Website Tracks High School Graduates' College Success

For state officials, the information promises to inform policy decisions at a time of intense focus on college and career readiness.

by Pioneer Press, McClatchy News Service / July 11, 2014

Back in 2008, 225 students graduated from St. Paul's Como Park High School. More than 70 percent went to college. Almost 40 percent got a degree.

That's the sort of information Minnesota educators and parents have long wished they had. Now, it is readily available for the first time on a newly launched website that shows where a high school's graduates went to college, how long they stayed on campus and how many graduated.

For state officials like Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, the information promises to highlight hidden success stories and inform policy decisions at a time of intense focus on college and career readiness. High schools can use it to assess how well they are preparing students and to spur partnerships with campuses popular with their graduates.

"This is a huge step forward in understanding how our students do when they leave us," said Joe Munnich, the St. Paul district's assistant director of research, evaluation and assessment. "It opens up amazing possibilities."

Of Minnesota's 2008 high school graduates, 69 percent went to a two- or four-year college, and 45 percent have since gotten a diploma. Eventually, the web site will also include information on how college graduates are faring on the job market.

The new data and web site are a joint effort by Minnesota's Office of Higher Education, the Departments of Education and the Department of Employment and Economic Development. The project is funded with the same federal grant that has supported the state's "Getting Prepared" reports, which show what portion of a high school's graduates had to take remedial courses in college.

Until now, high schools knew which of their students graduated in a given year. Higher education institutions knew which students arrived on their campuses and which stuck around until graduation. The state project linked up that data for each student.

Meredith Fergus, a manager at the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, says school leaders with whom she shared the data were thrilled.

"Principals said, 'Our students tell us they are going to college, and we think they are going to college. But we never know if they are going and graduating," said Fergus.

Theresa Battle, St. Paul's assistant superintendent for high schools, said she discussed the data with principals as they gear up to redouble efforts to steer students to college. While most students aspire to go to college, some might not believe they have what it takes or have the right information about applying.

"We haven't been really explicit about what it takes to realize those dreams," Battle said.

One helpful feature is the list of campuses where most students from each high school go. School and campus leaders can work more closely to make sure these students have smooth transitions, Battle said.

Later this year, the state will add data broken out by race and other demographics.

"This new tool will inform our continuous improvement, accountability, research, evaluation and decision making," Cassellius said.

©2014 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)