New York City Goes to College: A First Look

A First Look at Patterns of College Enrollment, Persistence, and Degree Attainment for NYC High School Students (2014)

Vanessa M. Coca

Over the past 15 years, in New York City and across the country, expectations for high schools—and high school students—have changed dramatically. Increasingly, high schools are being asked not only to reduce dropout rates and boost graduation rates, but also to impart knowledge, skills, and experiences that will prepare students to succeed in college. Similarly, many post-secondary institutions are also under increased pressure, as policymakers and the public ask hard questions about low college completion rates. Public K-12 and post-secondary systems in many cities, including NYC, have started working together in largely unprecedented ways, attempting to create a more seamless and effective education “pipeline.”

To inform these efforts, it is essential to know more about students’ pathways into and through college. The Research Alliance has developed a unique dataset that tracks multiple cohorts of NYC students from 9th grade through college. To do so, we combined high-school level data about NYC public school students with information from the National Student Clearinghouse. This brief summarizes findings from the initial analyses conducted with this important new dataset. It describes recent patterns of college enrollment, persistence, and completion for NYC students, and begins to explore factors that may affect their college outcomes. 

Among the key findings:

  • High school graduation and college enrollment rates have both gone up.
  • The growth in college enrollment has been driven by students attending two-year colleges, particularly CUNY community colleges.
  • While academically prepared students (i.e., those who earned the Advanced Regents diploma) were significantly more likely to enroll in college, one in five still didn’t pursue post-secondary education right after graduation. This suggests that barriers other than academics, such as cost and trouble navigating the application and financial aid process, may interfere with college enrollment, even for the strongest students.
  • There was slow and steady attrition from college across eight semesters, suggesting that students need support throughout their college career, not just early on. Students with stronger high school credentials and those at four-year colleges (particularly selective colleges) were more likely to stay enrolled and complete college on time.
  • Relatively high levels of early persistence in college did not translate into similarly high rates of college completion. For students who entered college in 2006, just 36 percent earned a two- or four-year degree within four years.

These findings raise a number of important questions, which the Research Alliance will investigate in future reports.

For more detail on all of the findings in the brief, read the full report.