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USM report examines Maine’s college preparation and participation rates

PORTLAND-  According to a recent study released by the Maine Education Policy Research Institute (MEPRI) at the University of Southern Maine (USM), several commonly held beliefs about Maine’s college preparation and participation rates may be inaccurate. National attention is currently focused on the topics of college and career readiness. In Maine, student enrollment and performance in college has been an ongoing discussion as state educators and legislators consider how to best prepare our high school graduates for bright, successful futures.

MEPRI researchers, housed in the USM Center for Education Policy, Applied Research, and Evaluation, examined data regarding college participation rates, remedial education needs, persistency rates, and success rates of Maine’s high school graduates in the institute’s newest report, “College Participation Rates of Maine’s Recent High School Graduates: Examining the Claims.” Based on a preliminary analysis of the state’s 2010 graduating class, and data provided by the National Student Clearinghouse and University of Maine System (UMS), researchers analyzed the accuracy of several persistent claims to bring new light to old beliefs.

Key findings:

*A majority of Maine students attend college: Immediately after graduation, 60 percent of Maine’s 2010 high school graduates enrolled in a two- or four-year college, a percent that has remained fairly consistent through the past two decades. Of this group, 90 percent enrolled as full-time students.

*A majority of Maine students attend college in Maine with academic performance equal to those who choose an out-of-state education: Approximately 30 percent of the high school graduates who immediately enrolled in college chose an out-of-state institution. On average, those who chose to attend an out-of-state college or university scored only four points higher on the Maine High School Assessment than those who remained in state.

*Less than 9 percent of students at a University of Maine System (UMS) campus require remedial coursework: For those first-time, full-time students who attended a UMS campus upon graduation, less than 9 percent took a remedial math or English course, although remedial course taking rates varied widely across UMS institutions. This rate is known to be higher for students who delayed enrolling in a college or university after graduating from high school.

*Fewer Maine students drop out of college as compared to national norms: Of those first-time students who enrolled full time in a UMS institution, 84 percent returned to a university for a second year, a persistency rate that is approximately 10 to 20 percent higher than similar institutions nationwide. The dropout rate is approximately 7.5 percent higher for remedial course takers, but still below the national level for all college students.

*More than 50 percent of students are considered “successful” in college by their second year:  With success defined as students who earned at least a ‘C’ average or higher during their first year and returned full time for a second year of college, approximately 58 percent of students were classified as successful. Of those students from less affluent homes (students who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch), 47 percent were classified as successful, as compared to 60 percent from less impoverished homes.

While researchers discovered that several commonly held claims concerning Maine students’ career and college preparation may be inaccurate, data also shows that too few of the state’s high school students may be attending college. According to recent studies, 90 percent of the fastest-growing jobs in the nation will require post-secondary education or training, and the number of jobs in Maine requiring post-secondary education or training will increase by 15,000 in the current decade. Though persistency rates are high, as shown in the MEPRI data, the finding that only 60 percent of students initially enrolled in a college or university indicates that there is work to be done.

The MEPRI, jointly funded by the Maine State Legislature and the University of Maine System, was established to conduct studies on Maine education policy and the Maine public education system for the Maine Legislature. MEPRI research on college readiness is conducted as part of the Maine Department of Education’s development of a state longitudinal data system.

The report and findings can be accessed at: cepare .