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CMSD grads ready for college, but enrollment down

CMSD graduates are more prepared for college but are enrolling in fewer numbers, a troubling trend that the Higher Education Compact of Greater Cleveland says the community needs to analyze and address.

Graduates could be deterred by the cost of college, or they pass up more lucrative futures to take jobs in a rebounding economy, the Compact suggested in releasing an annual report Thursday at Cleveland State University.

Mayor Frank G. Jackson formed the Compact in 2011 to better equip District students for college and career. Besides the city and CMSD, the partnership includes Cleveland State University, Cuyahoga Community College, other regional colleges and universities, a host of community groups and funders.

Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon said the District has more work to do in preparing students for higher education but added that the report shows “we have the academic infrastructure in place.” The next step, he said, is to provide “social and emotional supports” that would help students coping with poverty and other barriers.

“We know that many of our young people come to school with many other things on their minds and in their lives,” he said during a panel discussion that also included Tri-C President Alex Johnson, Kent State University President Beverly Warren and Lee Friedman, CEO of College Now Greater Cleveland.

Indicators in the annual report show CMSD graduates’ college readiness is on the rise.

The graduation rate is at a record 69 percent and on track to increase again. More students – nearly a third -- are graduating with B averages or higher, and fewer need remediation when they reach college.

Nearly 10 percent of the 2015 graduates -- the most recent group for whom figures are available -- earned college credit while in high school. The CMSD rate is typically double the state average, Gordon said.
The percentage of students with a college-ready score of 21 on the ACT admissions exam remained flat, but more District students take the test than in most Ohio communities. The District annually sets aside a day -- this year it's April 19 -- for all juniors to take the ACT.

But only about half of 2015 graduates enrolled in higher education, the lowest percentage since the Compact begin collecting the information.

The event’s keynote speaker, Rutgers University-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor outlined many steps that the university and partners are taking in that New Jersey city, including many already practiced by CMSD and the Compact. The list includes such things as summer jobs, tutoring, college application assistance, postsecondary planning and preparation for the SAT college-admission test. 
Gordon and other panelists said CMSD graduates sometimes skip college because families in one of America's poorest cities lack funds to close even small gaps in college funding. They may have tuition covered but without money left over to pay for living expenses. Rutgers University-Newark has begun offering "last-dollar" scholarships to help graduates make ends meet. 
Data shows that by the end of this decade, nearly two-thirds of Ohio’s jobs will require a postsecondary degree or credential. But the current workforce is far from meeting the criteria.

Friedman lamented Ohio’s failure to invest more money in college aid. She said not increasing spending could lead to serious consequences.

“It’s a long-term economic threat to our state,” she said. “That’s the truth.”