Supporting College Access and Success: Findings from Los Angeles
This week we are hearing from the Los Angeles Education Research Institute (LAERI @LAEdResearch). Today's post is written from the researcher perspective. Stay tuned: Thursday we will share the practitioner's perspective on this research.
This post is by Kyo Yamashiro, LAERI's Executive Director and Clinical Associate Professor and Director of the Urban Leadership Ph.D. Program at Claremont Graduate University's School of Educational Studies.
This blog post draws from research conducted by a team of researchers, including: Meredith Phillips, UCLA/LAERI, whom I also thank for her input on this blog post; myself; Carrie Miller, UCLA/LAERI; and Thomas Jacobson, UCLA/LAERI. We are very grateful to the College Futures Foundation (@CollegeFutures) and the Mayer and Morris Kaplan Family Foundation for their generous support of this work.
College attendance and completion are increasingly important for future success, but even students with high aspirations for college do not always actually enroll in college. This points us to an important question for practice: How can we support college readiness and address related challenges to help our students fulfill their academic potential?
The Los Angeles Education Research Institute (LAERI) has recently undertaken a number of research projects focused on learning more about college going patterns, college counseling resources available to support students on their path to and through college, and strategic early benchmarks in students' K-8 educational experiences that are predictive of meeting key college-readiness benchmarks once they are in high school.
LAERI is a research-practice partnership that works closely with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to identify important problems of practice or challenges facing students, schools, and district leaders that research may help to resolve or illuminate. In an effort to ensure that our research is relevant and useful to those who are in a position to take action or make decisions, we engage our practitioner partners throughout the research process, from identifying key initial research questions to discussing preliminary findings along the way and sharing reports and presentations before they are shared publicly. We convene topic-based working groups to discuss research and implications, contribute to a learning community focused on using high quality research and learning from practice, and engage the broader L.A. community and key stakeholders in understanding and using our research findings.
LAERI's launch of several research projects designed to examine college going outcomes and college readiness supports in Los Angeles came at a time when the district did not systematically gather information about students' college going patterns across LAUSD high schools. For our initial projects about college going, we analyzed the National Student Clearinghouse data (which contain information on students' college enrollments) to provide a baseline understanding of whether students enrolled in college, what types of institutions they enrolled in, and whether they persisted and completed a degree. (See similar studies by other big-city partnerships in Chicago, New York, Baltimore.) Simultaneously, we began our inquiry into college readiness resources in the L.A. region.
From this work, our two most recent reports emerged, both of which will be released this summer: one that analyzes college enrollment, persistence, and completion patterns among graduates from various subgroups and schools in the district; and another that examines the landscape of college readiness supports in Los Angeles. The research conducted for these two reports has served as the cornerstone of our ongoing dialogue with the district about college readiness through our College Readiness Work Group, which consists of key district leaders responsible for implementing or supporting policy relevant to the district's college readiness goals.
The results from these reports have implications for improving LAUSD students' college readiness. For example, in LAUSD (as in other districts) academic performance in earlier grades is closely linked to academic performance in high school, which is closely linked to both college enrollment and completion. These relationships imply that improvements to ensure that students are academically prepared to meet the rigors of college need to begin much earlier than high school. Our results also indicate that some LAUSD graduates were academically eligible to attend a four-year college but did not enroll in any college or attended a two-year college instead. This "under-matching" pattern suggests that some students and families might have made different choices if they had received additional financial aid and college application support in high school.
Our study of college readiness supports suggests that not all students who need such supports receive them. Similar to national patterns, counselors in LAUSD generally report that large caseloads and competing demands on their time make it difficult to address students' individualized needs during the college application and financial aid process. If counselors struggle to meet these demands and external service providers do not have the capacity to compensate for the scope of unmet needs, other solutions must be pursued. Our upcoming report includes several suggestions for monitoring college-access related milestones and increasing students' access to high quality supports.
Throughout the research process, we shared many iterations of our findings with the district, receiving feedback that helped improve our research and direct future inquiry. District collaboration improved the quality of the data (e.g., by clarifying data questions) and the methods by which we collected data (e.g., by helping us identify the best respondents for particular types of information and facilitating the integration of new or revised survey items into district-wide surveys). District input also led to additions to our planned data analyses and graphs, as well as to refinements in research questions and the language we used to describe the implications of our findings.
These are just a few examples of how an active and collaborative partnership can improve research. The district has also shared with us some ways in which our partnership work has informed their practice. Stay tuned for a second blog post on Thursday featuring an interview with Carol Alexander, LAUSD's Director of A-G Intervention and Support, on her thoughts about the usefulness and importance of research.