Getting into college is, without a doubt, one of the most competitive processes a teenager has to go through. The admissions standards of universities grow more demanding each year, and students are expected to fight to have better grades, extracurriculars, and essays than the thousands of others applying. Undoubtedly, many fail at getting into a place of higher education, or choose to go straight into the workforce despite the fact that going to college allows for many more job opportunities. That’s why it is extremely impressive that Urban Prep High School in Chicago had 100 percent of their seniors admitted to college for the eighth year in a row. Not only is it a public school, but eighty-five percent of its all-male students are low income and nearly all are African American, the lowest-performing demographic in Chicago public schools.
Their statistics are so shocking because typically private schools with high-income demographics spout the largest college acceptance rates. The income gap in college enrollment is staggering, with 82 percent of graduates from high-income families enrolling in college compared to 52 percent of graduates from low-income families, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In addition, Urban Prep is almost entirely made up of a minority population, a demographic that consistently has lower college enrollment rates and even lower rates of high-school graduation. The combination of both these situations makes Urban Prep High School’s achievement even more remarkable, considering that overall in the country only 70 percent of high school graduates enrolled in a place of higher education, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2016.
Why are national statistics for college enrollment so low? According to the data above, the largest contributing factor to low enrollment is income. This makes perfect sense. The cost of higher education is out of reach for many students, and the looming fear of putting oneself in debt for a degree is an option many don’t choose. But it also stands that students’ schools have the responsibility to encourage them to go to college. Continuing one’s education leads to many more opportunities, and the ability of a school to relate this and have their students succeed academically enough to be accepted is an exceptional feat. Urban Prep seems to implement success in its own unique way by enforcing discipline, requiring its students to be involved in at least two sponsored school activities, and having a “Pride System” that functions as a peer-support network where students can compete for good attendance, highest GPA, and good behavior.
The process of getting into college requires support from many parties. Not just financially, but through resources that help students be informed about how to apply and succeed realistically. Few students can go through the process of applying to college themselves, and need guidance to push them to go through the challenge. Students whose parents did not receive higher education are less likely to pursue college themselves, so for a student to break this trend goes beyond what their families are familiar with. In a low-income school such as Urban Prep High School, many students’ families undoubtedly did not have the experience or tools available to send their kids to college, so it was up to the preparation from the high school.
It is an amazing achievement for one hundred percent of a low-income minority school to be enrolled in college. It reminds us that, in most cases, resources are the largest barrier for those who wish to pursue a higher education. With the right preparation and inspiration from a high school, those who would otherwise not be accepted or know how to seek college acceptance can have these opportunities. While Urban Prep High School is unique compared to other low-income schools, I think it is a great representation of how schools in general should push their students to succeed no matter what their backgrounds are.
Claire Harvey is a second-year Literary Journalism major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org