An all-American town with an all-too-common American gap in college attainment

In Senior Year at Topeka High in the New York Times, Anemona Hartocollis talks to 12th graders, their parents and their counselors at her old high school. Nearly all students want to go to college, but some never enroll and many who do never earn a degree, she writes. It’s called the “aspirations-attainment gap.”

“Applying to college requires a huge amount of social capital — the support of family, friends, mentors and teachers — as well as personal drive and initiative,” she writes.

Topeka High is in many ways an all-American school, the largest public high school in this sprawling low-rise city of about 127,000 people. The school has a strong racial, ethnic and economic mix among its 1,800 students.

. . . A handful of students, mainly affluent ones, will go to the Ivy League. But the graduation rate hovers in the low 70 percent range, the principal said; 45 percent of graduates go to a four-year college, and 17 percent go to a two-year college.

She talks to a boy who’s taking honors classes, but considering technical school as well as college. His farmer dad wants him to enlist in the military or work before starting college. His mother favors college, but doesn’t know how the application process works.

Another boy, a frequent truant from a “downwardly mobile” family, wants to be a musician. Can he do better than his dropout brother?

An ambitious black girl wants to be a doctor. She’s done everything right in high school, but can she get the counseling and financial aid she’ll need to make her dream a reality?

Photo at Topeka High School courtesy of New York Times

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Joanne Jacobs

Joanne Jacobs

Joanne was born in Chicago and named after her grandfather, Joe Jacobs, who’d been a police reporter for the Omaha Bee-News. At the age of eight, she and her best friend became the creators and co-editors-in-chief of "The Wednesday Report" for four years. After years as a San Jose Mercury News columnist, Joanne started an education blog in 2001 and wrote "Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the Charter School That Beat the Odds." She freelances for online sites, newspapers, magazines, foundations and think tanks. In addition to blogging at joannejacobs.com, Joanne writes Community College Spotlight at ccspotlight.org.

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