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Rigorous, Relevant High School Program Leads Kids to College

Students in a high school program that combines strong academics, demanding technical education, and real-world experience were more likely to go on to college than their peers, new research released in California today shows.

Each year, about 1,400 students from 15 high schools in the Clovis and Fresno unified school districts attend a half-day program where they are taught by teams of instructors from both education and business in project-based labs at the Center for Advanced Research and Technology. CART uses the Linked Learning education model in which 11th and 12th grade students follow a pathway of study that connects learning in the classroom with real-world applications outside of school. Students can enroll in one of 13 labs ranging from human behavior and psychology to biomedical engineering and forensic science.

The matched pairs research study, funded by a grant from the James Irvine Foundation, tracked individual students from CART in Clovis Unified and Fresno Unified in the five years immediately following their graduation from high school. The seven-year study found that participation in CART's Linked Learning approach increased the community college entrance rate by 11 percentage points—71 percent for CART students compared with 60 percent for a demographically similar group of non-CART students. About 23 percent of CART students went on to four-year universities compared to 21 percent of their non-CART peers.

In some cases, attendance at CART more than doubled the rate of college entrance for minority students compared to national averages. For African-American students, 68 percent of students from CART entered community colleges compared to 32 percent of African-American graduates statewide.

This study is based on historical data going back seven years after the students had graduated. Students weren't "tracked;" instead, one population of CART graduates was compared with a matched comparison group. Researchers found matched pairs of students, based on levels of academic achievement, school, gender, ethnicity, etc. - to make the comparison students as identical as possible to those who participated in CART. The proportion of all variables matched across all groups.

Students did self-select into CART, so researchers acknowledge a possible selection bias. However, the authors of the study maintain that the fact that these students did better than their peers matched on academics and demographics argues for the success of these programs and the potential impact of offering CART-like programs more broadly.

"The message is clear: When students see a connection between what they're learning today and what they're earning tomorrow, they're more successful in the classroom, in college and, ultimately, in the workplace," said California's Superintendent of Instruction Tom Torlakson, in a press release today.

Although students choose to participate in CART, the group is diverse ranging from top performers to those who struggle academically. There was a strong link from attending CART to pursuing college, regardless of socioeconomic status, gender or race of the students, the research revealed.

CART was created in 1999 and is part of a statewide initiative that is implementing the Linked Learning approach across the state, including in 11 California school districts like Los Angeles USD (Local District 4), Oakland USD, Sacramento City USD and San Diego USD.

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