Less than 20 percent of Black graduates of Metro Nashville Public Schools complete college within six years of high school graduation, according to a sobering new report released today. The 2019 Bridge to Completion report, spearheaded by the Nashville Public Education Foundation (NPEF) in partnership with the Tennessee College Access and Success Network (TCASN), looks at the challenges and barriers students face when enrolling in and completing college.
This year’s report builds on the data from the 2018 report, including the finding that only 24% of MNPS graduates are earning college degrees within six years of completing high school. This report goes beyond this baseline data by digging into the student pipeline across race and ethnicity and across district schools to better highlight opportunities to increase college completion.
The updated report finds that the MNPS class of 2017 enrolled in college at a rate of 60.9%, down from the previous year, and college persistence rates continue to lag behind those of comparable schools. Even more troubling are the new findings that only 18% of Black students and an estimated 17% of Latino students complete college within six years – but for different reasons.
While Latino students are persisting at rates similar to those of their White and Asian peers, there are fewer Latino students enrolling in college in the first place. Black students on the other hand experience rates of college enrollment, persistence and college completion that are lower than those of White and Asian peers.
“We know that not every MNPS graduate is experiencing success in college, and this report highlights some of the challenges that many students, particularly students of color, are facing,” said Katie Cour, NPEF president and CEO. “We hope the report helps shed light on what the district and we as a city need to do to ensure more students get to and through college.”
The 2018 Bridge to Completion report outlined affordability as a key barrier to college completion, and identified Early Postsecondary Opportunities (EPSOs), specifically those that offer college credit, as one effective way to address affordability issues. The 2019 edition of Bridge to Completion takes a look at the EPSO landscape across the district to determine what improvements need to be made, revealing several important findings:
- MNPS students lack clarity in how EPSOs connect to postsecondary success, which may be depressing participation rates;
- Some EPSOs, like the Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, translate into credit at colleges interviewed for the report, while other EPSOs are recognized on a case-by-case basis and make it challenging for students to enter college with credit for coursework they’ve already completed; and
- Economically disadvantaged and Black students are underrepresented in EPSOs districtwide.
“EPSOs can make a huge difference in students’ postsecondary success, but we know that not all EPSOs are created equal,” said Bob Obrohta, executive director of TCASN. “When we look across the district, it’s clear that too many of our minority and economically disadvantaged students are not even given the opportunity to participate in high-value EPSOs, and this is incredibly problematic.”
Building up in the recommendations outlined in 2018, the 2019 Bridge to Completion report calls on the district to develop and implement a strategic plan around these offerings. This includes strategies to make EPSO offerings and benefits more clear to families and students, and to eliminate the underrepresentation of Black and economically disadvantaged students. In fact, recent policy changes to make EPSOs more accessible are already proving effective. When MNPS eliminated EPSO exam fees in 2017, the number of AP exams completed jumped tenfold during the 2017–2018 school year.
“We know we have our work cut out for us to improve the college completion rate in Nashville,” said Jennifer Hill, NPEF vice president of Policy and Programming. “But we also know that tangible, effective solutions – like reforming EPSO policies – are right at our fingertips. It’s time we give all of our students a chance to take advantage of programs and opportunities that make a college degree that much more attainable.”
To read the full report, visit nashvillepef.org/bridgetocompletion.
About the Nashville Public Education Foundation
The Nashville Public Education Foundation is a nonprofit organization committed to pulling together the vast intellectual, creative and financial resources of the Nashville community to create a shared vision of the city’s education system and provide the needed targeted resources to make it a reality. Visit www.nashvillepef.org to learn more.
About the Tennessee College Access and Success Network
The Tennessee College Access and Success Network is a nationally recognized, statewide nonprofit organization with a mission to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary credential and foster a college-going culture across the state. Visit www.tncollegeaccess.org to learn more.