The To&Through Project data insights illustrate how Chicago is faring on its quest to propel more students to and through high school and college. The data reveal that Chicago has seen major progress on the milestones that matter most for college success without sacrificing achievement—as systemwide high school and college graduation rates have gone up, so have GPAs and ACT scores for all student subgroups and school types. Learn more about Chicago’s upward trajectory and the forces and factors that drive college success below.

Why a College Education Matters

College is the new high school

Young Americans find themselves in a 21st century labor market that demands a college education. It is necessary now more than ever for our nation’s high schools to prepare and guide students to make a successful journey to and through college.

People who earn college degrees tend to be healthier, wealthier, and happier

Resarch shows people who earn at least a 2-year college degree live an average of 7 years longer, earn at least 51 percent more, and are 26 percent more likely to report they are “very happy” than those who do not.

Most Chicago students aspire to earn college degrees, yet projections show fewer than 1 in 5 will earn one

In 2016, 71 percent of Chicago Public Schools high school freshmen aspired to earn a bachelor’s degree, yet projections show only 18 percent of them will do so within ten years of starting high school. Chicago's degree attainment has almost doubled since 2006, yet we still have a long way to go to close the gap between our students' college aspirations and attainment. 

Research on What Fosters High School and College Success

Students have to be in school to succeed in school

A 3.0+ GPA is an important threshold for being more likely to graduate from college, and a majority of Chicago Public Schools students who hit that threshold missed fewer than 5 days of school per semester—an attendance rate of approximately 95 percent.

Freshman year GPA predicts high school graduation twice as well as test scores

While there is a correlation between test scores and a student’s likelihood of graduating from high school, the UChicago Consortium found ninth-grade GPA to be twice as predictive as test scores.

Good grades in the ninth grade are fundamental to good grades throughout high school

Students who finish their freshman year with a 3.0+ GPA are more likely to graduate from high school with a 3.0+GPA. More than two-thirds (67 percent) of students who are on-track with a 3.0+ GPA during their freshman year of high school will graudate from high school with a 3.0+ GPA. In contrast, only six percent of students who are on-track with less than a 3.0 GPA at the end of their freshman year, and zero percent of those who are off-track at the end of their freshman year will graduate from high school with a 3.0+ GPA.

Good grades in the ninth grade pave the way to selective colleges

A 3.0 ninth-grade GPA is critical for access to a selective college. Students who attain a 3.0+ GPA by the end of their freshman year are five times likelier to graduate from high school with access to selective colleges than on-track students who do not, and students who fail more than one semester of a core course and fall off-track during their freshman year have only a 1 percent chance of graduating from high school with access to a selective college.

High school grades are a strong indicator of college graduation

Good grades in high school not only provide students with greater access to selective colleges, but also predict greater success for them upon arrival. More than two-thirds of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students with a graduating high school GPA of 3.0 or higher complete college. In contrast, less than one-half of CPS students graduating from high school with a GPA in the 2.5-2.9 range graduate from college.

A strong college-going culture fosters college enrollment

A “college-going culture” is characterized by school leaders that place an explicit priority on fostering college enrollment, teachers who inspire an appreciation for the importance of a college education, and counselors who give one-on-one assistance to students in the application process. Schools where teachers report a strong college-going culture have higher rates of college application and enrollment than schools where they do not.

A better institutional graduation rate means a better individual chance of graduation

Students of all qualification levels are more likely to graduate from college if they attend a post-secondary institution with a high institutional graduation rate. A high institutional graduation rate shows that a college provides strong support for its students, and is therefore a very important statistic for every student to consider during their college search process.

Data on the Attainment Trajectory of CPS Students

Chicago has made significant progress on key attainment milestones

Over the past decade, Chicago has seen double-digit gains in its Freshman OnTrack, high school graduation, and four-year college enrollment rates; Chicago’s four-year college graduation rate, however, has remained flat. The work of high school and college educators, as well as civic leaders, nonprofit partners, policymakers, families, and communities, will be continue to be critical to helping the growing numbers of students who go to college get all the way through college.

Chicago is catching up to U.S. averages on major educational attainment milestones

Over the past decade, Chicago Public Schools has largely caught up to the nation on key educational attainment milestones, narrowing the gap in high school graduation and two-year college enrollment rates, and closing the gap entirely on four-year college enrollment.

Chicago's educational attainment improved alongside rising achievement

Chicago Public Schools’s rising high school graduation rate was accompanied by stronger student GPAs, ACT scores, and participation in AP courses.

CPS students' freshman year GPAs have risen steadily since 2009

Freshman year GPA is highly predictive of access to selective colleges. Students who are on-track with a 3.0+ GPA at the end of their freshman year are signficantly more likely to graduate from high school with access to selective colleges. In less than a decade—between 2009 and 2016—the share of Chicago Public Schools freshmen with GPAs of 3.0 or higher nearly doubled, from 22 percent to 40 percent.

Girls earned higher grades than boys

Between 2006-13, female CPS freshmen were more than 17 percentage points likelier than male CPS freshmen to earn B’s or better. This gender gap holds up on the lower end, as well; male CPS freshman are 14 percentage points likelier than female CPS freshman to have a GPA of D or F.

GPAs have varied greatly by race

A recent study by the UChicago Consortium on School Research shows gaps exist in Chicago Public Schools students’ freshman GPA by students’ race. 75 percent of Asian Chicago Public Schools freshmen earned an A or B average grade across courses between 2006-2013 compared to 58 percent of White CPS freshmen, 41 percent of Latino CPS freshmen, and 30 percent of Black CPS freshmen.

High school graduation rates improved for students of all races and genders

All of the major demographic groups in Chicago Public Schools are graduating from high school at substantially higher rates than they were a decade ago. High school graduation rates have increased the most for Latino male students, rising from 51 percent to 73 percent between 2006 and 2016.

Across race and gender groups, the high school graduation gap has narrowed but not closed

From 2006 to 2016, the gaps between male and female CPS students’ high school graduation rates have decreased by 5 to 7 percentage points. Still, high school graduation rate gaps between male and female students within all races remain, with particularly prounouned gaps between black and latino female and male students.

The past 10 years have seen 4-year college enrollment rates grow and 2-year college enrollment rates stagnate

The growth in Chicago Public Schools students’ college enrollment over the past decade has come almost entirely from an increase in enrollment in 4-year colleges. The increasing share of enrollees entering 4-year colleges is compatible with upward trends in student qualifications, but notable in light of increasing high school graduation rates, rising college costs and declining financial aid.

Chicago's 4-year enrollment rate has risen across all races and genders

Across all race and gender groups, more CPS students are enrolling in college. The district’s overall 4-year college enrollment rate improved by a third in the last decade, from 33 percent in 2006 to 44 percent in 2015.

Gaps in 4-year college enrollment for female vs. male students have widened

While the gender gap in high school graduation rates has narrowed over the past decade, the same gap in college enrollment rates has widened. Enrollment rates are rising across the board, but faster for young women than for young men.

Gaps in 2-year college enrollment for female vs. male students are nearly nonexistent

While gaps in 4-year college enrollment between female and male graduates have widened, we see little to no gap in 2-year college enrollment between female and male Chicago Public Schools graduates of all races.

CPS students from across the socioeconomic spectrum enroll in 2-year colleges at roughly the same rate

Although overall (2- or 4-year) college enrollment is higher as neighborhood median income grows, these gains come almost entirely from 4-year college enrollment, as 2-year college enrollment rates have remained nearly the same across median neighborhood income groups.

Nearly 1 in 5 CPS graduates with a 3.0 or higher GPA did not directly enroll in either a 2-year or 4-year college

Almost all students with GPAs of greater than 3.0 have access to selective colleges, but almost 20 percent of them do not directly enroll in college at all. This gap may suggest a need for additional supports in the college application and enrollment process for high-achieving students.

College transfer "traffic" flows in the direction of 2-year colleges

More than 1 in 4 (26 percent) of Chicago Public Schools’ 2009 graduates who enrolled immediately in a 4-year college transferred to a 2-year college, while 16 percent of CPS graduates who enrolled immediately in a 2-year college transferred to a 4-year college.

Nearly three fifths of CPS graduates enroll in college right away, one-fifth enroll within the next six years

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) graduates who delay college enrollment made up nearly 20 percent of all 2009 CPS graduates. Of CPS’s 2009 graduating class, 57 percent enrolled immediately—the fall after graduating from high school. An additional 14 percent enrolled by the fall of 2011, and 5 percent more enrolled by the spring of 2015.

Two-year colleges are destinations for a majority of delayed enrollees

Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of Chicago Public Schools’ 2009 graduates who chose to delay college enrollment, versus enroll in college the fall immediately following their high school graduation, landed at a 2-year college. In contrast, only ~1 in 4 (26 percent) of Chicago Public Schools’ 2009 graduates who delayed college enrollment ended up at a 4-year college.

CPS students are increasingly choosing colleges with strong institutional graduation rates

A college’s overall or “institutional” graduation rate is an important indicator of the amount of support it provides to its students in their quests to complete college. Students of all qualification levels are more likely to graduate from college if they attend a college with a higher institutional graduation rate. In 2006, just over half (58 percent) of Chicago Public Schools’ 4-year college enrollees were attending colleges with an institutional graduation rate of above 50 percent. In 2015, two-thirds (67 percent) were attending a college with an institutional graduation rate of above 50 percent.

Six-year college graduation rates at top receiving institutions for CPS students have risen

An institution’s underrepresented minority (URM) graduation rate is a common indicator of the amount of support it extends to its Black, Latino, and Native American students. The seven colleges depicted here have all made great progress over the last decade in improving their URM graduation rates. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, DePaul University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago receive nearly 1 in 5 (18 percent) of all CPS college-goers.