The Hartford Public School district has been the only one from Connecticut selected by the U.S. Department of Education to receive assistance with FAFSA. This will allow schools to access seniors’ information, showing who has applied for financial aid (including Pell grants and subsidized government loans) and who may have filled out the application incorrectly; counselors would be able to intervene when students have difficulty with the forms.
David Medina, the Director of External Communications for the Hartford Public Schools, says that the project will be phased in “over two years to evaluate [its] effectiveness.” According to Medina, “half of the city’s high schools will have access to the data in 2012-2013 and the rest will be included in the second year. A total of 122 districts nationwide have been selected for the project.”
Increasing college enrollment is only one of the hurdles that needs clearing. What has been given little attention is retention and successful completion of degrees. College readiness is not merely an abstract goal to meet in order to be accepted to college; it’s the difference between flailing — often in remedial courses — and dropping out, or getting by and increasing one’s odds of becoming employed in a field where upward mobility is even remotely possible. Writing a promising essay for Admissions is not the same as being able to independently complete the scholarly research that students may be expected to do with little hand-holding. Of Connecticut’s public school graduates, only 41% earn a college degree or certificate during the six years considered to be the traditional span for a college career. According to the Board of Regents for Higher Education and the State Department of Education, the rate for students from Hartford is even more abysmal: 14-16 % for those graduating from Weaver, Bulkeley, and HPHS. Students from Classical Magnet fared better with a 30% rate of college completion.
Currently, the public school curriculum skewed toward teaching to the standardized test does little in the way of preparing students for the type of critical thinking required of them in college. The report from the Board of Regents states that “most attention on K-12 success has focused on completion of the high school diploma and perhaps enrollment or intent to enroll in college without significant regard to how students perform in college once they get there.”