Academic Planning

Academic “Undermatch” and What it Means to You

Academic Undermatch

With only 57 percent of students attending 4-year colleges and universities receiving their bachelor’s degree in six years, it is important for students to choose the right college. But what is the “Right College?” Is it one where students attain their degree? Is it one where students have access to the necessary financial aid to reduce student loan debt? Is it one where students are engaged academically, nurtured socially, and are connected to the institution? Is it one where students develop a marketable skill set that will enable them to pursue jobs and careers? Is it one where students develop a network of social and professional contacts within the institution and that extend into the professional workplace? Is it one that is located close to home? Is it one that effectively prepares student for graduate school? Ideally, the right college would provide an affirmative answer to such questions based on their importance to the students who are applying to college. However, finding the right college match will also have to account for each student’s interest, gifts, talents, academic abilities, personality, best/worst learning situations, needed support, and career aspirations.

The term “academic undermatch” refers to when a student’s academic credentials permit them access to a college or university that is more selective than the postsecondary alternative they actually choose (Smith, Pender, Howell, Hurwitz). Academic undermatch may occur with as many as 41 percent of all students and may be significantly higher for students from lower income families, students who live in rural areas, and students from families where the student is the first in the family to attend college. Such students are less likely to have access to effective college planning or even engage in significant conversations about the types of colleges accessible to them. Without engaging in such conversations and lacking any formal curricular or co-curricular activities to engage them in college research and financial aid planning, they are not only likely to undermatch, they have no context for increasing the chances of making a good college match or even enrolling into college at all.

The research brief, “Maximizing the College Choice Process to Increase Fit & Match for Underserved Students” provides a working definition of “Fit” and “Match.”

Fit:a broad assessment of the extent to which an institution meets a student’s social, academic and financial needs. Considerations of fit may be based on a variety of factors, including location, academic programs and majors, class sizes, graduation and employment rate and support services offered.

Match:one aspect of fit—it refers to the relationship between institutional selectivity and students’ academic ability, and is usually assessed by ACT and/or SAT scores. Students often use “match” to assess their chances of being admitted to a particular institution and to determine where they will apply (Roderick et al. 2009). Those who choose to attend an institution with academic indicators (e.g., test scores) below their own are said to “undermatch” (Bowen et al. 2009).

The brief goes on to note:

“Attending a college that is a good fit and match is the optimal outcome of the college choice process—the steps students take to: 1) explore different types of institutions, majors, and financial aid options, 2) complete the admissions and financial aid processes, and 3) determine which institution to attend. The college choice process provides a framework for understanding the journey students take to arrive at their enrollment decisions. Several key factors influence the process, including parental education, socioeconomic status, students’ perceptions of college cost and financial aid, academic preparation, career aspirations, and the availability of information about college (Cabrera and La Nasa 2000).”

Although research shows that college completion rates rise with institutional selectivity, students should raise the question, “Do students from my cultural and socioeconomic background graduate at higher rates?” The following table shows the U.S. News and World Reports top ten ranked major colleges and universities(all of which are private institutions). The second table shows the U.S. News and World Reports top ten ranked liberal arts colleges(all of which are private institutions). The third table shows the graduation rates of students at ten of the largest public universities. Each table shows the 6-year graduation rates of white students and that of African-American and Hispanic students. Graduation rate data is taken from the U.S. Department of Education College Navigator.

Top Ten Ranked Major Universities


6-year Grad Rates

6-year Grad Rates

6-year Grad Rates

1. Harvard




1. Princeton




3. Yale




4. Columbia




4. U. of Chicago




6. MIT




6. Stanford




8. Duke




8. Penn




10. Caltech




Top Ten Ranked Liberal Arts Colleges


6-year Grad Rates

6-year Grad Rates

6-year Grad Rates

1. Williams




2. Amherst




3. Swarthmore




4. Middlebury




4. Pomona




6. Bowdoin




6. Wellesley




8. Carleton




9. Haverford




10. Claremont                McKenna




Graduation Rates for State Universities


6-year Grad Rates

6-year Grad Rates

6-year Grad Rates

University of Arizona




University of California Los Angeles




University of Florida




University of Georgia




University of North Carolina



University of Texas


University of South Carolina




University of Virginia


University of Washington


University of Wisconsin84%62%


While degree completion rates do not tell the full story, it is undeniable that the degree completion rates are higher for all students who attend selective colleges and universities, particularly for students of color and those from lower income families. Perhaps answers to the following questions may provide guidance as to why degree completion rates at such institutions are so significantly higher:

  • What type of financial aid policies are offered by the institutions?
  • What type of academic support is offered by the institution and among students themselves?
  • How large are the classes and what type of learning experience occurs within typical classrooms?
  • What is campus culture like?
  • How large is the student population and what are the socio-cultural norms embedded within the school community?
  • What type of financial aid support do students need and what is the level of support provided from the office of financial aid?
  • What is the academic calendar and what is the accessibility of student enrollment into the course work required for degree completion?

Although students of color and students from lower income backgrounds are more likely to attend a state university or public college within their state, research findings also reveal a number of reasons beyond location as to why such students choose to attend public in-state institutions and who are significantly less likely to identify the necessary “fit” and identify the right “match” in their college choices:

  • Low-income students are less likely to plan for college early
  • Underrepresented students have less access to comprehensive information
  • Underrepresented students underestimate their eligibility for financial aid and overestimate college costs
  • Underrepresented students often lack tangible parental support in the college choice process
  • Underrepresented students are sometimes discouraged from attending certain types of institutions based on counselor’s and teachers cultural misperceptions
  • Underrepresented students limit college choices to a smaller geographical range than wealthier students

The answers to such questions, as well as consideration of the research findings, can further explain the differences in degree completion rates between institutions. However, the question may be raised, “How does all of this relate to the issue of academic undermatch?” The answer is twofold:

  1. Students of color and students from lower income backgrounds who meet the admissions requirements and enroll into highly selective private colleges and universities have significantly higher rates of degree completion.
  2. Since African-American and Hispanic students disproportionately live in poverty and come from households where their parents are unlikely to be college graduates, even if they meet the criteria for admissions into highly selective colleges and universities, they are less likely to apply for admissions to such colleges (Smith, Pender, Howell, Hurwitz).

Although the tables provided here only compare graduation rates between 3 racial groups, students from all racial groups who come from lower income families or who live in rural communities are at risk of under matching in their college choices. It is important for all students to seek out their school counselor and local college planning support programs to assist in their college and financial aid planning efforts if they are to find the right college “fit” and “match.”


Maximizing the College Choice Process to Increase Fit & Match for Underserved Students. (2011). Research to Practice Brief. College Pathways Network.

Smith, J., Pender, M., Howell, H., Hurwitz, M. (2012). A Review of the Causes and Consequences of Students’ Postsecondary Choices. Advocacy & Policy Center. The College Board. <>

Smith, J., Pender, M., Howell, H., Hurwitz, M. (2012). The CollegeKeys Compact: Getting Into College: Postsecondary Academic Undermatch. Advocacy & Policy Center. The College Board. <>

Smith, J., Pender, M., Howell, H. (2012). The Full Extent of Student-College Academic Undermatch. Advocacy & Policy Center. The College Board. <>

The high costs of not doing your research


Claire Suggs from the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute shares important information for Georgia students:

State and federal lawmakers are changing higher education financial aid programs and that makes it harder for Georgia’s students to earn a college degree. These changes aren’t just hurting students and their families. They’re undermining Georgia’s economy, which is increasingly dependent on having an educated workforce.

The Legislature imposed new budget cuts on higher education in the last session. To compensate the university system announced tuition hikes for the upcoming school year. These hikes are now an annual ritual and their cumulative impact is large. Students entering the system this fall will pay on average 55 percent more than those who entered in 2008. For those starting at the University of Georgia or Georgia Tech, the increase is even greater: 65 percent at UGA and 70 percent at Tech.

While tuition soared, the HOPE Scholarship shrunk. In 2011 the legislature made significant changes to it. Now the scholarship covers only a portion of tuition instead of the full cost. For the current school year, the HOPE Scholarship covers about 83 percent of full-time tuition for students in the university system. It’s expected to cover a steadily declining portion of tuition in years to come.

There are signs that students in the university system are having a harder time covering college costs. The proportion of students with loans in Georgia is growing. Fifty-eight percent of Georgia graduates had student loans in 2011, three percentage points higher than 2010 graduates. At the same time student debt is growing. 2011 graduates owed on average $22,443 in student loans, almost 19 percent higher than the $18,888 owed by 2010 graduates.

The financial pressures these students face are about to intensify. On July 1 the interest rate on federally subsidized student loans is set to rise from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. In response the Obama Administration and the U.S. House of Representatives have proposed plans to tie the student loan interest rate to the interest rate of a 10-year U.S. Treasury note plus several percentage points. Under both plans the interest rate would rise, adding thousands of dollars to the cost of the loans.

Raising costs and reducing financial aid doesn’t help Georgia’s students. It will prevent many from completing a postsecondary program, making the state’s workforce less competitive. Those who manage to finish will increasingly do so at the cost of significant student loan debt, which limits their ability to buy a house or a car as well as save for retirement—all a drag on Georgia’s economic growth.

Each year, many Georgia students enter the Georgia University system without engaging in any meaningful college planning or financial aid research outside of the state of Georgia. Each year, students enter the Georgia University system armed with little more than the HOPE scholarship, and are shocked by how easily they can lose the HOPE scholarship and how large the unmet financial need they still have. Subsequently, as evidenced the amount of student loan debt Georgia’s college students are incurring, it would be wise for students to further explore their financial aid options and more carefully consider their choice of colleges.

No matter where students live, it is important for them to carefully research colleges and universities in and beyond their home state and pursue their education at those institutions (whether in state or out of state) where they have the best chance to receive their degree and acquire the necessary financial aid (without loans) to meet the cost of attendance.


Hidden Benefits of Good Schools

I recently wrote about the huge disparities in ACT scores between the top performing and lowest performing high schools (based on their ACT Composite scores) in the Cobb County Georgia School District. Other than this district being where my children attended elementary school, the reason for my blog posting was in response to a parent at our church who had seen headlines applauding the rise in ACT scores in the county. The photo is from one of the elementary schools in the cluster of schools that feeds into the high school with the top ACT Composite scores and highest number of National Merit Finalists. A close examination of the top ranked high schools will invariably reveal that students move through a cluster of schools, which include the top ranked elementary and middle schools in the state.

This is not about test scores, it is about the qualify of education that is ultimately revealed in the test scores and the hugely disparate opportunities awarded to students who benefit from earning high GPAs and test scores in high performing schools. The huge disparity between the median ACT Composite scores at the top performing high school and the lowest performing high school (53 percent difference), is a pathway to the hidden benefit as revealed by the number of students qualifying as National Merit Semifinalists, and the potential scholarship dollars and preferred college admissions that accompany’s such a recognition. The National Merit Scholarships are awarded to students based on their 11th-grade PSAT scores. It is important to note that the PSAT is a very different exam from the ACT. However, it should not come as a surprise that the highest PSAT scores are coming from students attending the same schools where they are earning the highest ACT scores.

The hidden benefits for students attending such schools should be clear:

  • Preferred college admissions
  • Automatic scholarships based on GPA, SAT, ACT, and PSAT scores
  • Increased college readiness
  • Savings in college tuition based on AP exam scores
  • Many students in the highest performing high schools enter college as sophomores, due to the number of first-year college classes waived as a result of their AP exam scores (saving a full year of college tuition, room, and board)

Only nine high schools in the county had students who qualified as National Merit Semifinalists. In only two high schools did the number of students qualifying as National Merit Semifinalists exceed the high school’s state ranking—Walton, ranked 6th in that has 25 National Merit Semifinalists and Lassiter, ranked 4th in the state and has 5 National Merit Semifinalists.

Following are the nine Cobb County high schools, their median ACT scores, state ranking, and the number of National Merit Semifinalists. If the ACT score is in bold, then the score did not meet the ACT college readiness benchmark score.

Walton (Composite Score 25.6): State Ranking (6); 25 National Merit Semifinalists

  • English – 25.6
  • Math – 26.0
  • Reading – 25.7
  • Science – 24.6

Lassiter (Composite Score 24.6): State Ranking (4): 5 National Merit Semifinalists

  • English – 24.3
  • Math – 24.8
  • Reading – 25.0
  • Science – 23.9

Pope (Composite Score 24.6): State Ranking (8): 7 National Merit Semifinalists

  • English – 24.5
  • Math – 24.6
  • Reading – 25.0
  • Science – 23.8

Kennesaw Mountain (Composite Score 23.8): State Ranking (20): 2 National Merit Semifinalists

  • English – 23.3
  • Math – 23.4
  • Reading – 24.1
  • Science – 23.7

Wheeler (Composite Score 23.5): State Ranking (62): 15 National Merit Semifinalists

  • English – 22.9
  • Math – 23.6
  • Reading – 24.0
  • Science – 23.2

Harrison (Composite Score 23.2): State Ranking (11): 3 National Merit Semifinalists

  • English – 23.0
  • Math – 23.0
  • Reading – 23.5
  • Science – 22.9

Hillgrove (Composite Score 22.3): State Ranking (23): 1 National Merit Semifinalist

  • English – 22.0
  • Math – 21.9
  • Reading – 23.1
  • Science – 21.8

Campbell (Composite Score 20.6): State Ranking (83): 3 National Merit Semifinalists

  • English – 20.1
  • Math – 20.7
  • Reading – 20.8
  • Science – 20.2

North Cobb (Composite Score 20.5): State Ranking (69): 1 National Merit Semifinalist

  • English – 19.9
  • Math – 19.8
  • Reading – 21.2
  • Science – 20.7

With the high cost of college tuition, room, and board, parents must do everything possible to ensure their children receive as much “pre-college” money as possible. I use the term pre-college to refer to the scholarship money that students qualify for, even before they have applied to college or for any formal scholarships. Some of the areas of “pre-college” money are:

  • National Merit and National Achievement Scholarships based on PSAT scores
  • Institutional scholarships that colleges offer to Valedictorians and Salutatorians
  • Institutional scholarships that colleges offer to students based on their SAT or ACT scores
  • Legacy scholarships
  • Institutional scholarships based on a student’s class ranking
  • Service scholarships based on participation in Boy or Girl Scouts, Beta Club, Junior Achievement, etc.
  • Merit Scholarships offered to students who are inducted into the National Honor Society, Math Honor Society, Science National Honor Society, etc.

Not all children are fortunate enough to attend the highest performing schools. It is important for parents and students to maximize the opportunities and minimize the inequities by supplementing their own learning. The easiest way is to simply find out what students are doing at the highest performing schools and ensure that your child is following their lead!

Read Aimee Sachs’ Marietta Journal Article…

Student Focus—GPA or Friends?

In my book, Empowering African American Males: A Guide to Increasing Black Male Achievement, I recount an encounter with my then ten-year-old son:

“Dad, I don’t want to be in Target [the talented and gifted program] this year. Since I’m going to be playing football, I believe it’s just going to be too much work for me. Maybe I’ll go back to Target next year.”

In response to my son, I said, “Jalani, I can understand how demanding it can be to attempt to balance your school work with the mental and physical demands of playing a sport. However, you are such an intelligent young man, I know you can balance both of them if you put forth the necessary effort. However,  your mother and I do not want to over burden you , so if you are sure that you cannot handle it. WE WILL HAVE TO TAKE YOU OUT OF FOOTBALL!”

My son stared at me in disbelief (this was not exactly the answer he was expecting) and responded: “That’s alright, Dad, I think I can handle it.”

I long understood the negative social acceptance among peers and sense of social isolation experienced by Black students when enrolled in gifted programs and advanced classes and when they are high academic achievers. A study by researchers from the University of Michigan and Boston University provides greater insight into the social costs of school success for Black students:

“The negative social consequences of getting good grades were particularly pronounced for black and Native American students in high-achieving schools with small proportions of students similar to themselves.”

Some of the additional findings were:

  • For whites, the link between GPA and social acceptance was strongly positive over time—the better their GPA, the more likely that students were to feel accepted and the less likely to report feeling lonely
  • For black and Native Americans, the relationship between GPA and social acceptance was reversed: the higher their GPA, the lonelier they were likely to report feeling, and the more they were likely to report that others had been unfriendly or disliked them
  • While Hispanics overall displayed a patter similar to whites and Asians, students of Mexican descent showed patterns similar to blacks

The researchers go on to note:

“This analysis did not identify reasons for racial and ethnic differences in relation between school achievement and a sense of social acceptance, but it does strongly suggest that racial dynamics within schools are having an important influence on students’ lives and should not be ignored. In fact, these dynamics are likely to be an important mechanism behind racial/ethnic gaps in achievement.”

As a result of the gentle nudging by my wife and me, continued high expectations and our understanding the peer pressure our son was experiencing, we were able to ensure that our son continue his course of high academic achievement. The results were our son’s acceptance into the Honors College at Morehouse College and his receiving the Gates Millennium Scholarship.

Parents and schools must do more to assist students in understanding the potential long-term consequences of the choices they make, i.e., “Is social acceptance today more important than hundreds of thousands of dollars toward my future college education based on my grades and test scores?” Even if students cannot fully appreciate the potential long-term consequences, it is a conversation that we must have as we encourage them to set new standards of academic achievement where it is cool to have a high GPA, cool to earn thousands of dollars in scholarships, and cool to achieve grades and test scores on a comparable level as other students!

Parent Involvement is the Clearest Predictor of College Access

The Texas Comprehensive CenterBriefing Paper on Parent and Community Involvement in a College/Career-Ready Culturenotes:

“The literature on parent and community involvement is extensive. However, there is little rigorous, experimental research; rather, the literature consists primarily of descriptive case studies or correlation studies, along with numerous studies involving survey data. The same holds true for research around development of career and college readiness. Furthermore, there is very little to be found on the combined topics of parent/community involvement, college/career readiness, and student achievement.”

Some of the key findings of available research indicate that students with involved parents, no matter what their income or background, are more likely to:

  • Earn high grades and test scores and enroll in higher-level programs
  • Pass their classes, earn credits, and be promoted
  • Attend school regularly
  • Graduate and go on to postsecondary education
  • Although parental involvement is important through all the years of school, it changes as children develop; therefore, a student in middle or high school benefits from a different type of parental involvement than does an elementary school student
  • the most consistent finding in studies of parental involvement was “the importance of parents’ educational aspirations for their children”

Similar research findings are reported in, Succeeding in the City: A Report from the New York City Black and Latino Male High School Achievement Study, where young men of color note the importance of parent expectations pertaining to their academic achievement:

  • High expectations for school success were conveyed in myriad ways. Most common was parents’ dissatisfaction with grades they believed were unreflective of their children’s full potential.
  • In several interviews, young men recalled how they felt good about earning 90% on tests, but their parents’ reaction was “why didn’t you get a hundred?”
  • Some had proven their academic aptitude in elementary school, but their grades declined in middle school. Their parents refused to excuse this change and instead nagged the teens, found ways to get them tutor-ing and other forms of academic support, and punished them by taking away privileges they had come to enjoy.
  • One young man recalled a pivotal moment in his academic trajectory. He started getting 70s and 80s on report cards, instead of the 90s he had consistently earned prior to middle school. His dad took him on a long car ride outside of the city to express two things: (1) how he believed the young man was capable of doing better; and (2) why B’s and C’s were unacceptable. Concerning the second point, the father told his son that he expected him to be someone great in life, to go to college; accordingly, mediocre grades would not get him there. That car ride resonated with this young man from that point onward.
  • Others remembered specific things family members and others said to them at various junctures in their educational trajectories that helped them realize how great they were destined to be.

Despite these two research studies profiling students and parents in two different states (Texas and New York), parent expectations is an important component in the academic outcomes of their children. It is clear that parents should engage in:

  • Communicating expectations for achievement and value for education
  • Fostering educational and occupational aspirations
  • Discussing learning strategies
  • Preparing and planning for the future

To best ensure a successful transition to college or a career parents should:

  • Know about college admission or career requirements so that they may appropriately guide their children’s courses and activities
  • Understand student assessments that will allow them to track progress toward meeting the requirements
  • Understand financial aid options
  • Understand the application process

Cultivating home-school partnerships requires that educators understand that the lack of parental involvement of African-American, Hispanic, and low-income parents is not so much attributable to shortcomings of parents themselves as they are to structures and policies, which create invisible walls and inhibit interaction with schools such as:

  • Inflexible work schedules
  • Language barriers
  • Lack of comfort with school staff
  • Conditioned mistrust

Overcoming these barriers requires:

  • Obtaining input from families regarding information and resources they need to support their children’s college aspirations
  • Familiarizing families with services that provide academic support and college planning and provide these services in a family-friendly environment
  • Ensuring that families from all cultural, social, linguistic, and community backgrounds are included in outreach efforts
  • Partnering with faith-based, community organizations, and institutions of higher education to provide college planning and financial aid information

Research indicates that for low-income families, information on financial aid is extremely important, and parents need the information early in their child’s education so they can build and reinforce his or her aspirations to attend college.

Succeeding in the City: A Report from the New York City Black and Latino Male High School Achievement Study, notes that even schools that successfully cultivate college-bound cultures can lack sufficient insight and understanding of the full range of needs of students who will be the first in their families to attend college or who are living in high poverty communities:

  • “This is like a small college,” one young man said of his high school. Others described college-going cultures that had been fostered in their respective buildings.
  • There were poster-sized spreadsheets on a bulletin board in the guidance counselor’s office at East Bronx Academy for the Future that listed each graduating senior’s name in one column.
  • Other columns were used to track whether students had taken the SAT; applied to CUNY, SUNY, and other postsecondary institutions; submitted the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), as well as applications for scholarships and other forms of financial aid (e.g., New York State’s Tuition Assistance Program); and had been accepted to college.
  • Students received big checkmarks in each column after one of these college-related activities had been completed. Fascinating to us was that almost every student listed on the spreadsheet had a near-complete row of checkmarks next to her or his name.
  • We also thought compelling that the spread-sheet was so large and so public. The guidance counselor explained that teachers, parents, and peers often interact with the bulletin board; if they see that a student has not done something on the list, they would ask (and some-times harass) her or him about it.
  • In that same office was another bulletin board that included college-related terms and their definitions. Students who would be first in their families to attend college probably would not have other-wise known the meanings of certain terms on the bulletin board (i.e., early decision, AP course, FAFSA, TAP, EOP, HBCU, and Bursar’s Office), hence its importance.
  • Participants at the 40 high schools frequently noted how teachers doubled as college advisors who offered assistance with the college choice process, admissions and scholarship applications, SAT prep, and financial aid documents.
  • “Did you see the signs above the classrooms?” one young man asked. “We are encouraged to talk to teachers about where they went to college; they help
  • Copies of college acceptance letters were stapled to bulletin boards and taped to walls in several other schools we visited.

However, although students at many schools are being inspired to pursue college, the report notes that even these schools are failing to provide students with pertinent information pertaining to financial aid and scholarships:

  • Despite their academic performance, few participants planned to finance their college education via scholarships and merit-based awards.
  • Although some expected to receive Pell Grants and awards from the New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), an alarming number of students planned to finance college through student loans and working off-campus jobs.
  • We occasionally asked if they knew about the Gates Millennium Scholars Program, income threshold and no-loans financial aid policies at elite private colleges and universities, or the Posse Foundation’s scholars program (financial aid initiatives for which their grade point averages and socioeconomic statuses would likely qualify them); their answers were almost always no.
  • One young man planned to simultaneously work full-time and be a full-time college student. Although his socioeconomic status would surely qualify him, he had never heard of on-campus employment opportunities via the Federal Work Study Program.

Schools must do more to foster a culture of high expectations, make parents feel welcomed, provide parents with the information and resources they need to encourage their children’s aspirations early during their schooling, and expose students to the wide range of scholarship and financial aid opportunities based on their gifts, talents, and family circumstances.

Students of Color Not Interested in STEM Careers

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the healthcare industry is among the fastest growing in the country and will create 3.2 million new jobs (an increase of 22 percent compared to 11 percent for all other industries) between 2008 and 2018. A recent survey by the Harris Interactive for University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, revealed that over half of high school-age students were not interested in pursuing a career in healthcare and science fields, with students of color being the least interested.

The results of the survey indicated:

  • 51 percent of 9th-12th graders were not interested in pursuing STEM careers
  • 61 percent of African American students were not interested in pursuing STEM careers
  • 42 percent of Hispanic students were not interested in pursing STEM careers

The reasons students provided for their lack of interest included:

  • 21 percent felt they were not good in school subjects in healthcare/science
  • 18 percent felt they do not know enough about such careers
  • 16 percent felt they are not ready to study healthcare/science in college
  • 16 percent felt education for a healthcare/science degree would cost too much

According to the 2012 ACT exam scores, many students are not graduating from high school ready to pursue math and science studies in college, which may explain why 21 percent of students surveyed felt they were not good in healthcare/science subjects.

Based on 2012 ACT exam scores, less than half of all students demonstrated college readiness in science:

  • 47 percent of Asian students
  • 38 percent of White students
  • 21 percent of Pacific Islander
  • 16 percent of Hispanic students
  • 15 percent of American Indian
  • 7 percent of Black students

Although in math, the percentage of students was higher, only two racial groups had over 50 percent of students demonstrating college readiness in math:

  • 72 percent of Asian students
  • 54 percent of White students
  • 41 percent of Pacific Islander
  • 31 percent of Hispanic students
  • 24 percent of American Indian
  • 15 percent of Black students


The Facts About Who Goes to College

The U.S. Department of Education provides information pertaining to the make up of U.S. undergraduate students (Profile of Undergraduate Students) in 2-year and 4-year colleges and universities. The report provides important insights into who the students are, grades they earn, amount of financial aid they receive, and the numbers who move on from freshman year toward their degree.

Important highlights are:

  • Only American Indian and Pacific Islander students attend 4-year colleges at a rate greater than 50 percent
  • With the exception of Asians (79.4 percent), over 80 percent of all students attend college in their home state
  • The percentage of female college students outnumber males in all racial groups with the largest gap between Black females (63.1 percent) and Black males (36.9 percent)
  • Over 50 percent of all students receive financial aid and leave college with at least $5,500 in student loan debt
  • Over 30 percent of all college students take at least one remedial course

Where students attend college:

American Indian

  • 53.3 percent attend 4-year colleges
  • 37.8 percent attend 2-year colleges


  • 42.5 percent attend 4-year colleges
  • 45.5 percent attend 2-year colleges


  • 46.6 percent attend 4-year colleges
  • 42.9 percent attend 2-year colleges


  • 45.3 percent attend 4-year colleges
  • 40.2 percent attend 2-year colleges

Pacific Islander

  • 55.8 percent attend 4-year colleges
  • 32.7 percent attend 2-year colleges


  • 49.5 percent attend 4-year colleges
  • 40.9 percent attend 2-year colleges

The type of colleges students attend:

American Indian

  • 74.4 percent attend Public
  • 8.7 percent attend Private nonprofit
  • 10.6 percent For-profit


  • 72.0 percent attend Public
  • 12.7 percent attend Private nonprofit
  • 4.9 percent For-profit


  • 65.9 percent attend Public
  • 11.3 percent attend Private nonprofit
  • 15.9 percent For-profit


  • 67.0 percent attend Public
  • 11.6 percent attend Private nonprofit
  • 13.2 percent For-profit

Pacific Islander

  • 69.0 percent attend Public
  • 13.6 percent attend Private nonprofit
  • 8.5 percent For-profit


  • 70.9 percent attend Public
  • 14.5 percent attend Private nonprofit
  • 6.8 percent For-profit

Percentage of college enrollment by grade level:

American Indian

  • 46.6 percent first-year
  • 31.8 percent second-year
  • 9.1 percent third-year
  • 9.7 percent fourth-year


  • 36.9 percent first-year
  • 25.4 percent second-year
  • 12.7 percent third-year
  • 18.2 percent fourth-year


  • 47.8 percent first-year
  • 27.3 percent second-year
  • 11.1 percent third-year
  • 11.4 percent fourth-year


  • 46.8 percent first-year
  • 27.3 percent second-year
  • 11.4 percent third-year
  • 11.4 percent fourth-year

Pacific Islander

  • 45.7 percent first-year
  • 26.6 percent second-year
  • 11.0 percent third-year
  • 11.3 percent fourth-year


  • 37.9 percent first-year
  • 27.5 percent second-year
  • 14.0 percent third-year
  • 16.6 percent fourth-year

Percentage of students who attend college in their own state:

  • American Indian: 82.6 percent
  • Asian: 79.4 percent
  • Black: 85.9 percent
  • Hispanic: 92.6 percent
  • Pacific Islander: 89.1 percent
  • White: 86.7 percent

Percentage of grades student receive:

American Indian

  • 15.3 percent Mostly A’s
  • 15.2 percent A’s and B’s
  • 24.1 percent Mostly B’s
  • 21.9 percent B’s and C’s
  • 11.7 percent Mostly C’s
  • 11.8 percent C’s and D’s or lower


  • 19.2 percent Mostly A’s
  • 23.6 percent A’s and B’s
  • 24.9 percent Mostly B’s
  • 16.0 percent B’s and C’s
  • 9.7 percent Mostly C’s
  • 6.6 percent C’s and D’s or lower


  • 9.7 percent Mostly A’s
  • 17.4 percent A’s and B’s
  • 24.7 percent Mostly B’s
  • 21.4 percent B’s and C’s
  • 14.3 percent Mostly C’s
  • 12.6 percent C’s and D’s or lower


  • 12.6 percent Mostly A’s
  • 19.3 percent A’s and B’s
  • 26.9 percent Mostly B’s
  • 19.8 percent B’s and C’s
  • 11.6 percent Mostly C’s
  • 9.8 percent C’s and D’s or lower

Pacific Islander

  • 12.6 percent Mostly A’s
  • 18.5 percent A’s and B’s
  • 27.4 percent Mostly B’s
  • 18.0 percent B’s and C’s
  • 14.3 percent Mostly C’s
  • 9.2 percent C’s and D’s or lower


  • 19.2 percent Mostly A’s
  • 25.1 percent A’s and B’s
  • 24.7 percent Mostly B’s
  • 15.5 percent B’s and C’s
  • 8.8 percent Mostly C’s
  • 6.6 percent C’s and D’s or lower

Male and female college students by racial group:

American Indian

  • 54.9 percent female
  • 45.1 percent male


  • 53.6 percent female
  • 46.4 percent male


  • 63.1 percent female
  • 36.9 percent male


  • 59.6 percent female
  • 40.4 percent male

Pacific Islander

  • 56.0 percent female
  • 44.0 percent male


  • 55.2 percent female
  • 44.8 percent male

Percent of dependent college students who receive financial aid:

American Indian

  • 70.8 percent receive financial aid
  • $5,500 in average loans


  • 53.4 percent receive financial aid
  • $6,600 in average loans


  • 76.2 percent receive financial aid
  • $6,900 in average loans


  • 69.0 percent received financial aid
  • $6,700 in loans

Pacific Islander

  • 61.5 percent receive financial aid
  • $7,200 in average loans


  • 63.5 percent receive financial aid
  • $7,100 in average loans

Percent of college students who took at least one remedial course:

  • American Indian: 43.9 percent
  • Asian: 38.1 percent
  • Black: 47.3 percent
  • Hispanic: 45.1 percent
  • Pacific Islander: 40.6 percent
  • White: 33.1 percent

How to Research Schools

Parents and students have the opportunity to become more informed than ever about their elementary, middle, high school, and college. The websites on this page allow parents and students to research school performance, test scores, demographics, graduation rates, national ranking, and student impressions.

SAT, ACT, and AP Exam Scores

ACT Scores for the entire country and by individual state.

SAT Scores by state, racial group, and subject area.

AP Report to the Nation provides AP exam data by state, racial group, and subject area.

K-12 School Demographics

The U.S. Department of Education website provides information about federal programs, parent rights, Title I schools, etc.

The National Center for Education Statistics website is the central source of information for K-12 public and private schools, as well as colleges and universities.

To identify your school’s performance, as measured on their Adequate Yearly Progress Report (AYP), google your state and the term AYP, e.g., “Georgia AYP.” This should take you to your state department of education website where you may identify your school and read their report.

Read AYP 101 for more information

College Information

There are a number of sources for gathering information on U.S. colleges and universities. The National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator website provides comprehensive information.

The College Results Online website provides extensive institutional information for all U.S. colleges and universities such as admission rates, graduation rates, costs, demographics, and student enrollment.

The Thurgood Marshall College Fund provides a listing of Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Newsweek ranking of U.S. Colleges and Universities

Princeton Review College Rankings

A comprehensive listing of Community Colleges by state

Aspen Institute’s ranking of Community Colleges

The College Confidential website provides discussion forums were parents and students share their experiences

The College Prowler website provides comprehensive information from students regarding financial aid, best experiences, campus life, etc.

Financial Aid

The Project on Student Debt provides important information, reports, and research regarding student loan debt.

The FinAid website provides an extensive overview of the types, costs, and processes associated with borrowing and repaying student loans.

Comparison of 5 top scholarship search engines for information about scholarship search websites.

The U.S. Government’s Federal Student Aid website guides you through a number of questions that will assist in identifying your options for paying for college. It will estimate your EFC (Expected Family Contribution), whether or not you are Pell Grant eligible, and the type and amounts of Federal Student Loans you qualify for.

Please share this page with your friends and classmates. This page will be continually updated as more research websites are identified.

2012 Report on Black Male Graduation Rates

TheSchott Foundationreport, “The Urgency of Now,” provides a 2012 – 50 state report on public education and Black male achievement. It should be clear to parents of Black males that the success of their sons, rests solely in their hands. Whether they are educated or uneducated, financially successful or living in poverty, living in a suburban community or in the inner city, they must accept ownership of their son’s learning.

The Urgency of Now: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males data indicate nationally the gap between the Black and White male graduation rate has only decreased three percentage points in the last 10 years. At this rate of progress, with no “large sale” systemic intervention, it would take another 50 years to close the graduation gap between Black males and their White counterparts.

Our failure to institutionalize the supports necessary to provide Black males with a substantive opportunity for success has yield a climate where in 2011, according to NAEP, academically only 10 percent of Black male 8th graders are deemed proficient in 8th grade reading, and only 52 percent are graduating from high school in a four-year period  (p. 2).

I am a child of poverty and a first generation college graduate. My father had an 8th grade education and my mother had only a 10th grade education. However, my mother and father did not entrust my fate to Chicago Public Schools. While they could not help me with homework or prepare me for tests and quizzes, they made sure that I was focused on college and they made my school work a household priority.

Due to my parents’ unrelenting affirmation that I would attend college, now, my wife and I are college educated parents with the intellectual tools to guide our sons through their schooling. Like my parents, my wife and I did not entrust the fate of our sons to their respective schools. We advocated for them, guided them, and ensured that their academic achievement was a household priority. Subsequently, our older son is about to graduate from Amherst College and our younger son has just entered Morehouse Collegeas a recipient of the Gates Millennium Scholarship.

If the findings of this report are not enough to move parents to seeking out the help they need to ensure their sons are learning what they need to know today in preparation for college tomorrow, then tragically little will change in regard to the future of our children. Parents, faith-based institutions, fraternities, sororities, professional and community organizations must understand that school systems and programs will not save our children.

The report notes that in 38 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Black males have the lowest graduation rates among Black, Latino and White, non-Latino male and female students (p. 6). Below are other key findings in the report.

The four-year high school graduation rates for males nationally are (p. 7):

  • 78 percent, White males
  • 58 percent, Latino males
  • 52 percent, Black males

The ten states with the highest Black male high school graduation rates are:

  1. 97 percent: Maine
  2. 84 percent: Arizona
  3. 82 percent: Vermont
  4. 76 percent: Utah
  5. 73 percent: Idaho
  6. 72 percent: Oregon
  7. 71 percent: Alaska
  8. 65 percent: Minnesota
  9. 65 percent: South Dakota
  10. 64 percent: Oklahoma, Rhode Island

The ten states with the lowest Black male high school graduation rates are:

  1. 37 percent: New York
  2. 38 percent: District of Columbia
  3. 41 percent: Iowa
  4. 44 percent: Nebraska
  5. 45 percent: Ohio
  6. 46 percent: South Carolina
  7. 47 percent: Delaware
  8. 47 percent: Florida
  9. 47 percent: Illinois
  10. 49 percent: Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, New Mexico

School districts with the highest Black male high school graduation rates are:

  1. 74 percent: Montgomery County (MD)
  2. 74 percent: Newark (NJ)
  3. 68 percent: Cumberland County (NC)
  4. 67 percent: Baltimore County (MD)
  5. 67 percent: Guilford County (NC)
  6. 60 percent: Fort Bend (TX)
  7. 59 percent: Wake County (NC)
  8. 55 percent: Palm Beach County (FL)
  9. 55 percent: Prince George’s County (MD)
  10. 54 percent: Virginia Beach (VA)

School districts with the lowest Black male high school graduation rates are:

  1. 9 percent: Rochester (NW)
  2. 20 percent: Detroit (MI)
  3. 22 percent: Clark County (NV)
  4. 24 percent: Philadelphia (PA)
  5. 27 percent: Chatham County (GA)
  6. 27 percent: Richmond County (GA)
  7. 28 percent: Cleveland (OH)
  8. 28 percent: New York (NY)
  9. 28 percent: Jackson (MS)
  10. 32 percent: Norfolk (VA)

Black male graduation rates for the largest school districts are:

  1. Atlanta, GA: 42 percent
  2. Baltimore, MD: 40 percent
  3. Charlotte, NC: 44 percent
  4. Chicago, IL: 39 percent
  5. Cincinnati, OH: 33 percent
  6. DC: 38 percent
  7. Dallas, TX: 35 percent
  8. Detroit, MI: 20 percent
  9. Houston, TX: 40 percent
  10. Los Angeles, CA: 41 percent
  11. Memphis, TN: 43 percent
  12. New York, NY: 28 percent
  13. Philadelphia, PA: 24 percent
  14. Rochester, NY: 9 percent

States where less than 10 percent of Black males are proficient in reading by 8th grade are:

  1. 4 percent: California
  2. 6 percent: Arkansas
  3. 6 percent: South Carolina
  4. 7 percent: Michigan
  5. 7 percent: Mississippi
  6. 7 percent: Nebraska
  7. 8 percent: Alabama
  8. 8 percent: DC
  9. 8 percent: Louisiana
  10. 8 percent: Missouri
  11. 9 percent: Indiana
  12. 9 percent: North Carolina
  13. 9 percent: Ohio
  14. 9 percent: Tennessee
  15. 9 percent: Wisconsin

With only 10 percent of Black males reading on a proficient level by 8th grade, any significant increases in Black male high school graduation rates and college matriculation rates will only occur within those households, faith-based organizations, and communities, where academic achievement becomes a priority.

The percentage of adults (25 year-olds and higher) holding a bachelor’s degree of higher:

  • 32 percent of White males
  • 16 percent of Black males
  • 12 percent of Latino males

Click here to download the full report…

Curriculum Matters

While many states are focusing on implementing the Common Core State Standards, many parents and students are confused about why the curriculum matters so much. After all, as long as students are learning how to read, write, compute, and think, aren’t they being prepared for college and careers? The answer is no!

The report, Large-Scale Evaluations of Curricular Effectiveness: The Case of Elementary Mathematics in Indiana, notes the very different learning outcomes experienced by students in elementary schools using different mathematics curricula. The study noted that 56 percent of fourth graders do math problems from their textbooks every day during class. Even this is a cause for alarm—why are only half of our students working math problems daily? With over 70 different curriculum alternatives, it stands to reason that students are largely learning what is in the textbooks. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics note: “If a topic is not included in the curriculum materials, there is a good chance that teachers will not cover it.”

The study revealed differences in student performance on state testing in grades 3, 6, 8, and 10, based on the math curriculum adopted by their respective schools. According to theACT Report: The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2012 for Indiana, 58 percent of Indiana’s students demonstrated college readiness in Mathematics compared to only 46 percent nationally. Although better than the national average, with only slightly more than half of Indiana’s students demonstrating college readiness in mathematics by 12th grade, parents and students should compare the sample ACT math problems against the type of problems students are being taught in their current curriculum.

Two questions should guide parents and students in taking ownership of student learning:

  1. What are students being taught in the current curriculum?
  2. What will students be expected to know to be ready for college?

Based on your school’s curriculum, there may be a huge gap between what students are being taught and what they will be expected to know to be successful in college. Parents and students should also be interested in knowing there are many colleges and universities that offer students full academic scholarships based on a student’s GPA and ACT or SAT scores. Ensuring that your school’s curriculum is effectively preparing students to perform well on the SAT or ACT can result in the opportunity for students to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars in academic scholarships.