Student Stories: Navigating the Post-Secondary Maze

Last spring, the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research and the To&Through Project released a study on Chicago Public Schools (CPS) graduates’ post-secondary pathways. The study revealed that the normative view of college — being continuously enrolled at one institution and graduating with a bachelor’s degree — is not typical for many CPS graduates. Rather, CPS graduates’ pathways defined a different “normal,” one in which students were more likely to transfer between institutions and take time off college than previously known.

Not only were these transitions common, but they were also consequential for many CPS graduates. For example, among students in our study who took a semester or more off college, 90% did not complete a college degree or certificate within six years of high school graduation. In addition, students who immediately enrolled in a four-year college but directly transferred to a two-year college soon after were about five times less likely to complete a bachelor’s degree within six years of high school graduation.

Students who immediately enrolled in a four-year college but directly transferred to a two-year college soon after were about five times less likely to complete a bachelor’s degree within six years of high school graduation.

These findings inspired us at the To&Through Project to seek out students who have made these transitions to understand more about their experiences. This summer, we learned about the stories of five CPS graduates currently enrolled in college who have either transferred from a four-year to two-year institution or taken time off college.

They shared insights into the relationships and supports that were crucial to their continued success in the face of academic and financial obstacles to college persistence. They also identified an array of needs during their post-secondary journeys that remained unfulfilled by their high schools, higher education institutions, and student support organizations.

Among the CPS graduates whose college pathways we studied, the transitions that our student interviewees Nancy, Arthur, Amayrani, Moises, and Kiara experienced were not rare. More than one in 10 immediate four-year enrollees in our study — about 3,000 students — transferred to a two-year college within the first two years of starting college. More than half of immediate two-year enrollees in our study — over 7,000 students — stopped out from college within their first two years.

More than one in 10 immediate four-year enrollees in our study — about 3,000 students — transferred to a two-year college within the first two years of starting college.

However, these five students’ experiences are not representative of the tens of thousands of other CPS graduates currently navigating college. Indeed, our study identified more than 6,000 distinct college pathways taken by CPS students who graduated from high school between 2010 and 2012. There remains a need for quantitative research to provide the city with a more systematic understanding of our graduates’ post-secondary experiences.

These five forthcoming stories do not constitute research; rather, they represent the lived experiences of individual students who have made a multitude of post-secondary transitions trying to find a way to make their aspirations a reality. For us, their stories reaffirmed our belief that CPS graduates do not lack persistence; they lack the supports they need to persist.

For us, their stories reaffirmed our belief that CPS graduates do not lack persistence; they lack the supports they need to persist.

Learning about what students say they need rather than what we think they need is paramount as we emerge from the pandemic and strive to recover the losses in college enrollment and completion already experienced by CPS graduates. We hope that you will take time to read Nancy, Arthur, Amayrani, Moises, and Kiara’s distinct perspectives on what it takes for CPS graduates to successfully navigate the post-secondary maze.

Read the stories:

  • Nancy is a Latinx, first-generation college student from Brighton Park. She immediately enrolled in a four-year college after high school graduation, transferred to a two-year college, and is currently enrolled in another four-year college. Read her story.
  • Arthur is a Black college student who attended a high school on the Southwest Side of Chicago. He immediately enrolled in a four-year college after high school graduation and has since transferred to two-year colleges as well as an online bachelor’s degree program. Read his story.
  • Amayrani is a Latinx, first-generation college student who graduated from a selective enrollment public high school and immediately enrolled in a two-year college. She took two semesters off during the pandemic. Read her story.
  • Moises is a Mexican American, first-generation college student from West Lawn. He immediately enrolled in a four-year college after high school graduation, transferred to a two-year college, and is currently enrolled in another four-year college. Read his story.
  • Kiara is a Belizean American college student from South Shore. She immediately enrolled in an HBCU after high school graduation, transferred to a two-year college, and is currently enrolled in a nursing program at that college. Read her story.

The To&Through Project team would like to express our most sincere gratitude to Amayrani, Arthur, Kiara, Moises, and Nancy for taking the time to share their stories with us.

Adayan Munsuarrietta, a third-year student at the University of Chicago majoring in Critical Race and Ethnic Studies as well as Media Arts and Design, interned with the To&Through Project during the summer of 2021, during which he interviewed these five CPS graduates and drafted their stories.

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The To&Through Project aims to increase high school & post-secondary completion for under-resourced students of color in Chicago & around the country.

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The To&Through Project

The To&Through Project

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The To&Through Project aims to increase high school & post-secondary completion for under-resourced students of color in Chicago & around the country.