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How Many Online High School Graduates Really Go On to College?

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Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 1:41 PM


When we teamed up with the Cleveland Plain Dealer to take a look at how Ohio's statewide online schools perform, we found something that surprised us: A relatively small percentage of all online school graduates go on to any kind of postsecondary education.

By postsecondary education, we mean two-year and four-year programs, as well as vocational programs. And by relatively small percentage, we mean about 1 in 10, compared to about 4 in 10 for Ohio's "Big 8" urban districts.

Some of the seven statewide online schools we focused on in our story took issue with the numbers cited, so we wanted to explain how and why we used the figures we did.

Ohio has seven statewide online schools. Students at those schools can live anywhere in Ohio. At some of those online schools, teachers work from their homes. At others, teachers work from a central office.

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We Started With Plan A

One of the best sources for information about what students from any high school do after graduation is a nonprofit called the National Student Clearinghouse. This group tracks enrollment in nearly every college -- two- and four-year, private and public. Schools and districts can get annual reports for $425.

But it's not like anyone can just buy the reports: Only schools and districts can.

So in June, we sent public records request to all seven statewide online schools requesting any reports -- including any from the clearinghouse -- on how many graduating seniors enrolled in postsecondary education and/or the military and which institutions they enrolled in.

All seven schools told us they didn't have any reports.

That surprised us, since many large traditional public school districts do receive clearinghouse reports and use them to evaluate how successful they are in helping students enroll in postsecondary education.

(After learning about the National Student Clearinghouse this year, officials at the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, Ohio's largest online school, say they have decided to start purchasing clearinghouse reports. Another online school, Connections Academy, says it it also considering doing so.)

Onto Plan B

With no clearinghouse data available to us, we turned to the next best thing: Ohio Board of Regents data.

The Board of Regents data isn't ideal: The latest figures at the time we wrote the story are for the Class of 2009. And they only includes public programs within Ohio.

College Enrollment/Readiness: Ohio Statewide Online Schools

. Number of Graduates (2008-09) % Enrolling in Postsecondary Education (Class of 2009) % College-Ready (Class of 2009)
All Statewide Online Schools 1,854 7% 50%

Source: Ohio Board of Regents

College enrollment rates for individual online schools range from 5 percent for the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow to 15 percent for TRECA Digital Academy.

The Board of Regents puts the college enrollment rate for Ohio Virtual Academy, Ohio's second largest online school, at 13 percent.

An Undercount?

Ohio Virtual Academy disputes that figure. The school denied our public records request for national clearinghouse reports, saying they did not have them.

But after we asked school head Kristin Stewart in August about the school's college enrollment rates, she sent us a clearinghouse report showing 53 of the school's 84 Class of 2009 graduates enrolled in postsecondary programs, public and private, in-state and out.

Ohio has seven statewide online schools. Last year, four received the equivalent of a C on their state report cards. Two schools got Ds and one got a B.

That's 63 percent.

Even looking at figures just for students who went to college in Ohio, or just to public schools, the clearinghouse figures are still significantly higher than the Board of Regents'.

A spokesperson for the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow too says school officials are "skeptical" of the Board of Regents figures. For the Class of 2011, the school had about 1,600 seniors and received more than 2,000 requests from students to send transcripts to colleges.

At Connections Academy, Ohio's third largest online school, about 55 percent of seniors in the Class of 2012 reported they wanted to go onto two- or four-year colleges, spokesperson Allison Bazin. Bazin says the Board of Regents report showing none of its 2009 graduates went on to college might not be accurate.

She's right.

The system colleges and the Board of Regents use to track where students come from had incorrect identification codes for Connections and another online school, OHDELA, Board of Regents spokesperson Kim Norris says. That meant that the board didn't include graduates from those schools in school-by-school college-enrollment counts. The codes have since been updated, she says.

Norris says the Board of Regents is confident the rest of its college enrollment data is accurate.

Growing, Changing

But even if every Ohio Virtual Academy and Connections Academy student enrolled in college in 2009, it wouldn't have changed the overall picture much.

That's because both schools had relatively few graduates in 2009, just 111 between both schools. Ohio's largest online school, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, had more than 1,200, just 5 percent of whom went on to college, according to the Board of Regent's figures.

Things are changing.

Ohio Virtual Academy, which is operated by for-profit company K12 Inc., is growing rapidly. The school used to focus on enrolling students in elementary and middle school, but now its high school ranks are growing.

The school's clearinghouse report shows that it had 156 graduates in 2010. That's nearly twice as many as in 2009 and nearly 20 times -- yes, twenty times -- as many as in 2008.

And Connections Academy, which is operated by for-profit company Pearson, is also growing, though at a slower pace. Remember how Connections had 29 graduates in 2005? It had 205 graduates in 2012.

But the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, is growing rapidly too. Remember how just 5 percent of its Class of 2009 enrolled in higher education, according to the Board of Regents?

That figure for the Class of 2010 was 6 percent.

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