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 2017, 69 percent of Chicago Public Schools high school freshmen aspired to earn a bachelor’s degree, yet projections show only 19 percent of them will do so within ten years of starting high school. Chicago's degree attainment has almost doubled since 2007, yet we still have a long way to go to close the gap between our students' college aspirations and attainment. 

The gap between college degree aspirations and attainment extends beyond Chicago

Nationwide, the vast majority of high school students aspire to earn a bachelor’s degree, yet less than one in three will succeed, underscoring the importance of learning more about drivers of and barriers to students’ college success for both the K-12 and higher education communities. 

Freshman year of high school is a critical juncture along students’ educational journeys

Freshman OnTrack—earning no more than one semester F in a core course (math, science, social studies, and English) and enough credits to be promoted to 10thgrade—is more predictive of a student’s odds of graduating from high school than race, socioeconmic status, prior achievement record, and other factors combined

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

Chicago Public Schools 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 (69 percent) of students who are on-track with a 3.0+ GPA during their freshman year of high school will graduate 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. Chicago Public Schools students who attain a 3.0+ GPA by the end of their freshman year are over 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 one percent chance of graduating from high school with access to a selective college.

CPS students' freshman year GPAs have risen steadily since 2009

Freshman year GPA is highly predictive of access to selective colleges. Chicago Public Schools students who have a 3.0+ GPA at the end of their freshman year are significantly more likely to graduate from high school with access to selective colleges. In less than a decade—between 2009 and 2017—the share of Chicago Public Schools freshmen with GPAs of 3.0 or higher nearly doubled, from 22 percent to 42 percent.

Despite the recent growth in CPS students’ freshman year GPAs—nearly 1 in 4 students still fail at least one semester of a 9th grade course

A sizable proportion, 23 percent, of Chicago Public Schools’ ninth grade students struggle in and ultimately fail at least one semester of one core or non-core course compared to only 9 percent of eighth grade students. 

All students are at risk of seeing significant declines in their core GPA in the transition to high school

Even high achieving students see their core GPAs decline between eighth and ninth grade. In fact, Chicago Public Schools students with the highest eighth grade GPAs see their GPAs decline the most between eighth and ninth grade. Students who earned almost an A average (3.8) in 8th grade, on average saw their core GPAs fall to a low A/high B average (3.3) during their freshman year of high school.

High achieving Black students see the greatest declines in their core GPAs between 8th and 9th grade

Black Chicago Public Schools students who earned an eighth grade core GPA in the 3.5-4.0 range see their core GPAs decline by nearly three-quarters of a grade point in the ninth grade, by -.73 grade points on average. The core GPAs of Latino CPS students also drop signfiicantly between eighth and ninth grade, by more than half a grade point (-.54 on average), while White and Asian students see their GPAs decline by roughly a third of a grade point, -.35 and -.32 points, on average, respectively.

Non-core course failures hurt students’ odds of graduating just as much as core course failures.

Research suggests that one failure in a non-core course in the ninth grade is just as detrimental to students’ likelihood of graduating from high school as one failure in a core course. Ninety percent of Chicago Public Schools freshmen who pass allof their courses in ninth grade graduate from high school within four years, but students who fail even one semester of one course—core or non-core—during their freshman year have only around a seventy percent chance of graduating.

Students lose significantly more GPA points in non-core than core subjects from 8th to 9th grade

Chicago Public Schools students’ grades typically fall in all subjects as they transition to high school, not just in core subjects like math, English, social studies, and science, but also arts and PE/health. In fact, most students actually see much larger declines in their grades in non-core subject areas like PE/health and the arts than in core subject areas. On average, students see their grade fall twice as much in PE/health and the arts as in the core subjects between the eighth and ninth grades. 

Black and Latino young men see the greatest declines in their PE/Health grades from 8th to 9th grade

In eighth grade, most Chicago Public Schools students earn As and Bs in PE/Health but, in ninth grade, their grades in these subject areas fall to below a B average. Black and Latino young men see particularly disproportionate average GPA losses in PE/Health, with the PE/Health grades of Black and Latino young men falling almost a full letter grade (one GPA point) between 8thand 9thgrade.

Ninth Grade Science and PE/Health classes are failed at nearly the same rates

In ninth grade, the proportion of Chicago Public Schools freshmen failing at least one semester of PE/health (8.3 percent) almost matched the proporition of students failing at least one semester of science (8.5 percent) and exceeded the proportion of students failing at least one semester of social studies (7.8 percent). 

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.

Grades are much more predictive of college success than standardized test scores

While standardized test scores matter for college access, grades (GPAs) are much more predictive of college success. Chicago Public Schools students who have earned an ACT score of 18-20 on the ACT have had less than a 50 percent chance of graduating from college if their high school GPA is between 2.5 and 2.9. In contrast, students who have earned an ACT score in the same rangeof 18-20 but with a 3.5+ high school GPA have had a more than 70 percent chance of graduating 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.

Girls have earned higher grades than boys

Between 2006-17, female CPS freshmen were more than 17 percentage points likelier than male CPS freshmen to earn Bs or better. This gender gap holds up on the lower end of the grade spectrum, as well: male CPS freshmen are 14 percentage points likelier than female CPS freshmen to have a D or F GPA.

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 about a decade ago. High school graduation rates have increased the most for Latino male students, rising from 51 percent to 75 percent between 2006 and 2017.

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

From 2006 to 2017, the gaps between male and female Chicago Public Schools students’ high school graduation rates have decreased by 4 to 8 percentage points. Still, high school graduation rate gaps between male and female students within all races remain, with particularly pronounced gaps between Black and Latino female and male students.

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

Across all race and gender groups, more Chicago Public Schools students are enrolling in college. The district’s overall 4-year college enrollment rate improved by more than a third in the last decade, from 33 percent in 2006 to 47 percent in 2016, with 4-year college enrollment rates increasing the most for Black, Latino, and White female students, rising 17, 19, and 20 points, respectively, between 2006 and 2016.

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. 4-year college enrollment rates for Chicago Public Schools students are rising across the board, but faster for young women than for young men.

4-year college enrollment rates have grown while 2-year college enrollment rates have stagnated over the past decade

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

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.

An increasing number of CPS graduates are completing their bachelor’s degree within six years of high school graduation

More than twice the number of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) graduates immediately  enrolled in a 4-year college in 2016 vs. 2003, and 1,167 moreCPS graduates who enrolled immediately in a 4-year college in 2010 vs. 2003 have graduated with a bachelor’s degree. 

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 2016, over two-thirds (69 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 for Chicago Public Schools graduates.