High School graduation isn’t the finish line, it’s the starting point

In 2017 and beyond, educational attainment will be more important to the U.S. economic success than ever before. Workers with only a high school diploma find it increasingly difficult to enter the middle class. The share of jobs that require a college degree has doubled over the last 40 years.  In 1970, roughly three-fourths of the middle class had a high school diploma or less; by 2007, this share had declined to just 39 percent. Today, college access and attainment remains unequal. Given the growing need for an educated work force, increasing college opportunity among all students is critical to promoting social mobility. While half of people from high-income families have a bachelor’s degree by age 25, just 1 in 10 people from low-income families do. Low-income students face very real challenges to pursue the postsecondary education that leads to better jobs and higher social mobility. Low-income students often lack the guidance and support they need to prepare for college, apply to the best-fit schools, apply for financial aid, enroll and persist in their studies, and ultimately graduate. As a result, large gaps remain in educational achievement between students from low-income families and their high-income peers.

PREP-KC focuses on college and career success for all urban high school students

For the past decade, PREP-KC has developed, piloted and implemented a number of strategies to help low-income students effectively prepare for success in postsecondary education and well-paying careers. PREP-KC is improving the education of Kansas City’s urban students by providing resources to prepare all students for college and careers.

Working with six bi-state urban school districts and three charter schools that serve 22,500 mostly low-income students, PREP-KC supports a more rigorous math curriculum, provides the opportunity for students to earn college credit in high school, and offers career-readiness experiences to prepare students for future employment. PREP-KC identified these strategies after analyzing the needs of the students and forming a clear understanding of the opportunity gap within the Kansas City regional bi-state area. The success of these strategies has been evident as these programs have complemented each other well by better preparing students for postsecondary education and careers.

Return on Investment (ROI) analysis findings

To understand the real economic value of this work, PREP-KC worked with a summer fellow from Education Pioneers to conduct a Return on Investment (ROI) analysis. We based this analysis on data collected from the graduating class of 2014 from PREP-KC partner schools. This data was compared to data from other urban high schools in Kansas City and across the nation that also served predominately low-income students of color. The analysis demonstrated that:

  • In 2014, Students from PREP-KC’s partner schools graduated from high school at a higher rate (84%) than students from other urban schools in the Kansas City region (52%) and nationally (75%).
  • According to date from the National Student Clearinghouse, students who graduated from PREP-KC partner schools also enrolled in college at a higher rate (42%) than their peers locally (34%) or nationally (36%).
  • Students who participated in PREP-KC’s Career Academies had the strongest overall results, with 100% of Career Academy students graduating from high school, and 74% of those students enrolling in college.
  • When economic data is taken into account, the increases in educational attainment achieved by PREP-KC partner schools translates into significant increases in projected lifetime economic value for graduates of PREP-KC partner schools. This increase in projected lifetime economic value suggests that PREP-KC’s programming has a significant economic benefit for both individual graduates as well as the bi-state region as a whole. The ROI analysis projects that while the typical urban high school graduate produces only $960,760 in lifetime economic value, the typical PREP-KC graduate will generate $1,003,551 in lifetime economic value, and Career Academy graduates will generate $1,227,628 in lifetime value.
  • Given these projected economic outputs for PREP-KC graduates, the ROI analysis calculates a $67 return on investment for every dollar invested in PREP-KC’s high school programming.

To read more about the findings of PREP-KC’s ROI analysis, please view our slide show, read our report, and take a look at the calculations behind the ROI analysis.

What’s next

The ROI analysis validated what our outcome data and the testimonial of our students and our partners have indicated for years—PREP-KC should continue current programs and look to expand our work. In particular, scaling the Career Academy program will provide PREP-KC the opportunity to maximize its impact by preparing much greater numbers of students for high-demand, high-growth careers in the bi-state region. PREP-KC is providing opportunities for thousands of students in Kansas City’s urban schools to develop to their full potential. PREP-KC is delivering strategies that work and results that matter.  By scaling the work being done here, thousands more students can become highly skilled members of a growing workforce, a prosperous economy and a thriving community.

In the coming months, PREP-KC will be writing other blog posts that highlight specific findings from the Return on Investment analysis, and engaging our partners around some of the next steps PREP-KC will take to reach more students. We welcome your questions and comments regarding our ROI analysis. PREP-KC would also like to thank the Kauffman Foundation for their help in bringing Education Pioneers to Kansas City, and our fantastic summer fellow Dhruv Pandey, for his work in researching and conducting this analysis.