Nationwide, only 20 percent of students who graduate from high-poverty high schools graduate from college within six years. This number has not improved much in recent years. But Will Bishop, NASSP member and principal of Norcross High School in Norcross, GA, wanted to change that story for his school’s graduates.

Norcross High School (NHS) is a public school near Atlanta with an enrollment of more than 3,700 students. More than 80 percent of the student population is made up of minorities, and approximately two-thirds of students come from low-income families.

Bishop needed to make changes that would have a meaningful—and measurable—effect on graduates’ college and career readiness. In order to determine which changes would be most effective, Bishop needed relevant benchmarks paired with reliable data about Norcross students’ pathways once they graduated from high school. To get this information, Bishop turned to the National Student Clearinghouse.

Capturing Specific Data to Drive Results

Each fall, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center releases a free report that addresses this need. High School Benchmarks: National College Progression Rates summarizes nationwide data on high school graduates’ postsecondary outcomes, including information about college access, persistence, and completion. For secondary school leaders, this report represents the most relevant benchmarking tool available, drawing data not from the students, but from the colleges and universities at which they enroll.

The report covers public and private high schools from all 50 states and a majority of the 100 largest districts in the country, including nearly 40 percent of all public high school graduates. More importantly, it breaks down college enrollment, persistence, and completion percentages by various school populations:

  • Low-minority versus high-minority
  • Low-income versus higher income
  • Public, charter, and private
  • Rural, suburban, and urban

Using this tool, Bishop was able to compare Norcross High School’s student outcomes with data about schools with similar student populations.

For the second piece of the puzzle—understanding the effect of school curricula, programs, and policies on postsecondary outcomes for a given student population—Bishop needed to track what happened to the school’s graduates in the years following high school. To get this information, NHS enrolled in the Clearinghouse’s StudentTracker for High Schools service, which provides independently verified postsecondary outcomes data derived from colleges and universities across the country.

Schools using StudentTracker for High Schools receive an extensive set of analytic data reports three times per year, detailing the postsecondary access and success outcomes for up to eight consecutive years of their graduating classes. Additionally, schools can request reports on any subset of graduates, allowing school leaders to answer almost any question about how different groups of graduates are faring in college.

Although many high schools track college admissions and enrollment rates, those reports are not sufficient to determine college and career readiness. Enrollment in college is just the beginning of a student’s postsecondary journey. StudentTracker for High Schools takes a graduating high school class and reveals what really happens after students graduate from high school.

“The High School Benchmarks report and the StudentTracker report provide important feedback on our graduates’ performance in college,” Bishop says. “We believe our students must graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills necessary to successfully complete their program of study at their college of choice. The data we receive from the National Student Clearinghouse plays a key role in helping us monitor our students after they leave our campus.”

Using Clearinghouse data, Bishop and his colleagues at NHS had the tools to answer their most pressing questions about students’ college and career readiness, assess their school’s current performance, and chart a course for the future. As a result of Bishop’s efforts, NHS is beating the odds—45 percent of Norcross graduates completed a college degree within six years after their high school graduation. This benchmark is 21 points above the national average for all low-income, high-minority schools in the benchmarks report.

Preparing Students for the Road Ahead

College and career readiness is a key goal at the secondary level. In order to understand student outcomes, schools need to understand several complex factors, including:

  • How are schools preparing their students for success after high school?
  • How can schools help students find a best-fit college where they have the best chance of being successful?
  • How can leaders be certain that their graduates are on track for success in college and the workforce?
  • How can school leaders apply lessons learned from the postsecondary outcomes of recent graduating classes to current and future high school students?

High school administrators in school districts across the country work together to use Clearinghouse data effectively, creating new opportunities for insight and improvement. For example, as the result of a new initiative from California’s San Diego County Office of Education, each high school in San Diego County uses StudentTracker for High Schools to connect the dots between recent graduates’ outcomes and the services schools are providing current and future students.

“As a county, we need and want to know what happens to students when they leave the K–12 system,” says Paul Gothold, the San Diego County superintendent of schools. “Are our students making it to college and, if so, are they succeeding there? If not, what can we do to remove the barriers that are keeping our students from thriving? Our partnership with the Clearinghouse allows the San Diego County Office of Education to conduct research around rates of postsecondary enrollment and to design services that help schools and districts improve equitable access to postsecondary options.”

Principals should keep three criteria in mind with respect to using their own data effectively. Focusing on these three essentials can help secondary schools unlock transformative insights about students’ college and career readiness:

  1. Access to helpful points of comparison
  2. Verified data on graduates’ postsecondary journeys
  3. The ability to pull it all together into a coherent narrative

Having verified data as a starting point is immensely powerful. Pairing it with smart analysis enables school leaders to formulate the right questions, both about outcomes for today’s graduates and for how the school can better serve future graduates.

The first step is to compare relevant national benchmarks with school-level data. For example, in 2018, the High School Benchmarks report found that 30 percent of students who graduated from high-minority high schools in 2011 completed a college degree within six years, compared to 48 percent from low-minority schools who did the same. Furthermore, only 10 percent of students from high-​minority high schools completed a STEM degree within six years, compared to 16 percent of students from low-minority schools.

“These numbers give schools the tools they need to help identify strategies that work in preparing their students for success in college,” says Doug Shapiro, executive research director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “The High School Benchmarks report shows how important it is for high schools to break out their StudentTracker data that we provide them, find similar schools and districts, know what others do well, and replicate best practices.”

Using the report’s data allows school leaders to assess their school’s position relative to that of similar schools. Once a baseline has been established, schools can track whether they are gaining or losing ground, not just relative to their own performance last year, but relative to national benchmarks as well. With these tools, tracking the impact of policy or curricular changes on postsecondary outcomes becomes much easier.

“The National Student Clearinghouse has long been a trusted partner of colleges and universities across the country, providing verified enrollment and degree data for 99 percent of enrolled students nationwide,” says Ricardo Torres, CEO of the National Student Clearinghouse. “In order to better serve the education, workforce, and learner communities, we know that the inclusion of secondary schools is a critically important part of creating and improving positive, long-term educational and workforce outcomes. We’re focused on giving secondary school leaders the tools they need to support students’ college and career readiness.”

John Schiappa is the product manager for the StudentTracker for High Schools, created by the National Student Clearinghouse in Herndon, VA.

Sidebar: College Completion

The differences among students from different types of high schools become most pronounced in the rates of college completion. This chart presents the rates of college completion as a percentage of all students in the high school graduating class, not just those who enrolled in college. Again, income is the strongest correlate. Forty-eight percent of all students from higher income high schools in the class of 2011 completed a college degree within six years of their graduation, compared to 26 percent of students from low income schools. As was the case in the immediate college enrollment rates, the achievement gap is even larger among graduates of high- and low-poverty schools. Only 20 percent of graduates from high-poverty high schools graduated college within six years of finishing high school, compared to 55 percent of low poverty school graduates.

The relationship between college completion rates and the minority level of the school was equally strong. Forty-eight percent of students from low minority high schools completed a college degree within six years, compared to only 30 percent from high minority schools. Students from urban high schools also lagged behind: 36 percent of students from urban schools completed a degree within six years of graduation, compared to 42 percent from rural schools and 46 percent from suburban schools.

Sidebar: STEM Completion

This chart presents the rates at which graduates from different types of high schools in the Class of 2011 completed a STEM degree within six years of high school graduation. The percentages of both minority and low-income students in a school were strongly associated with STEM degree completion. Sixteen percent of students from higher income schools completed STEM; only 8 percent of students from low income schools completed STEM.






To Learn More …

To learn more about the National Student Clearinghouse StudentTracker for High Schools, visit Check out the section on case studies to read about how high schools and districts around the country are using StudentTracker for High Schools to assess and improve their college preparation efforts.