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Where do NC students go after high school? Public schools have a new tool to follow their journey.

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Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash
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Lincoln County Schools superintendent Aaron Allen says that, for years, his district’s staff have been trying to track where their high school graduates go on to college and whether they ultimately earn degrees.

That work requires calling graduates, following them on social media and checking in with their parents.

“I'll call you, I'll see you at church [and ask] ‘how's the kid doing?’” Allen says.

Now, a new data tool available to all North Carolina public schools will eliminate the guesswork.

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has contracted with the National Student Clearinghouse to receive annual reports that follow all high school graduates over time as they enroll in two-year or four-year colleges.

Jeni Corn is the director of research and evaluation at the department, and presented the new data set to the state board of education earlier this month. She says the General Assembly has committed long-term funding to make the data available to schools "in perpetuity."

“What you're able to do is see what happens to your high school students to answer some of these questions: Where do they enroll? Where do they transfer? Where are they retained? Where do they graduate?” Corn said.

Corn says the statewide data report can help inform education officials who want to improve higher education attainment.

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NC Department of Public Instruction
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"The students that we all should be the most concerned about are the guys in the yellow," Corn said. "Those are the students that wanted to go to college, that enrolled in college, and then for whatever reason, did not go back."

Schools will receive individualized reports focused on their own students. Lincoln Charter school’s chief administrator Jonathan Bryant has combed through his school’s 47 page report.

Bryant says the data fills a gap in the school's knowledge about its students. He plans to report the data to the school's board annually as a measure of success.

He says the report will help answer an eternal question in educators' minds — "is your school working well for your students?"

Bryant says schools can use the data to tailor programs and college counseling to their community's needs. For example, if a high proportion of graduates pursue two-year degrees, the school could focus on career and technical education course offerings and partnerships with local community colleges.

Allen says that, based on the data he's seen, he's interested in asking alumni who attend four-year colleges to speak to high school students about the challenges of adjusting during their freshmen year.

“It's showing us where we have been successful, but more importantly, where we need to do better,” Allen said.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email: lschlemmer@wunc.org
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