The College Challenge

In June 2001, Catalyst published the first in a series of periodic reports on the experiences of nine African-American and Latino students who had their sights set on a college degree.

In this issue, we cap off these personal reports with the results of a survey of 350 minority students from Chicago who are enrolled in a wide variety of four-year institutions. The survey was conducted by the Metro Chicago Information Center.

The entire project was conducted in cooperation with Future Teachers of Chicago/Illinois, under a grant from The Joyce Foundation.

The problem

The number of black and Latino students enrolled in college has risen steadily. Among high school graduates, about 45 percent of whites, 41 percent of African Americans and 34 percent of Hispanics enroll in college, according to the most recent available data.

However, students of color continue to be underrepresented in degree attainment. The college graduation rate is about 59 percent for whites, 38 percent for African Americans and 46 percent for Hispanics, according to the best available data for four-year institutions.

Key issues

62 percent of students waited until their last two years of high school to begin college planning. Experts recommend that students, especially blacks and Hispanics, begin planning in middle school and that urban high schools beef up efforts to help. But CPS high schools have far too few guidance counselors to do that job; the recommended student-counselor ratio is 250 to 1; the CPS ratio is 360 to 1.

Compared to students nationally, more Chicago students said their high schools weren’t helpful in selecting high school courses (23 percent), choosing a college (31 percent) and finding financial aid (26 percent)

Good study skills are critical to success in college, but 41 percent said their high school didn’t give them any direct instruction in those skills.

While sizeable majorities felt well prepared to meet the reading and writing requirements of college (68 percent and 61 percent, respectively), only half felt well prepared to meet the math requirements.

Difficulties with time management had the greatest impact on students’ ability to succeed, followed by financial difficulties and personal or family problems.