Four-Year College Rate

Helping All MHS Students Who Seek a Bachelor’s Degree

It is well known that people with bachelor’s degrees have greater earning potential and a lower unemployment rate than those who do not.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers with a bachelor’s degree earn 20% more than those with an associate’s degree (translating to over $500,000 of lifetime income), and have 23% lower unemployment[1]. Furthermore, it is a fact supported by recent studies, which have been reported in both the literature and in the popular press, that a student has a far better chance of earning a degree if he/she starts at a four-year college[2],[3],[4]. That is the foundation for CQE’s position on 4-year college: that all Metuchen students should have that same best opportunity to earn a four-year degree by beginning their studies at a four-year school.

Nearly 35% of the MHS Class of 2010 are not attending a 4-year college straight from high school.   The organization and other members of the community who understand the importance of a 4-year degree are asking the Board to examine whyMHS students are pursuing a 2 year degree if they are intending to go on to a four year college? Do they think they can save money by beginning at a community college?  Is it because they have not been encouraged to apply to a 4-year college? CQE believes it is imperative that these questions be investigated.

In fact, there is a long-term trend in Metuchen toward low enrollment rates in four-year colleges compared to other New Jersey towns with similar demographics. The state Department of Education has created a structure called District Factor Groups (DFGs), which organizes all of the school districts in the state into several groups based on demographics such as median income, average educational level, unemployment rate, and poverty rate. Metuchen is in the second highest District Factor Group. There are 48 high schools in Metuchen’s group, and Metuchen ranks 46th out of those 48 in sending graduates on to four-year colleges[5].

It has been noted that income levels in Metuchen are lower than most of the other school districts in our District Factor Group, and that this could skew the 4-year college enrollment comparison, especially if affordability is the main issue. In 2008 (the most recent year for which data are available), the median household income in Metuchen was approximately $95,000[6]. There are 20 towns in New Jersey with 2008 incomes within $5,000 of Metuchen’s (so, $90,000 to $100,000). Of these, only five have 4-year college enrollment rates lower than Metuchen’s.  So, Metuchen’s enrollment rate at 4-year colleges lags well behind not just our District Factor Group, but also those towns that have incomes that are very close to ours. This comparison offers some indication that it’s not just about perceived affordability of college.

With the aid of Naviance, a computer program used by MHS Guidance, certain questions about why students aren’t attending 4-year colleges can be readily answered for the MHS Class of 2010, and the answers to those questions may lead to some possible solutions.  For example, knowing how many of those students who chose to attend Middlesex applied only to MCC, may inform us that students need to be instructed to apply to more than one school.  Similarly, answering the question how many of those students who chose MCC had applied to at least one 4 four-year college but were not accepted to any other school, may point to a need to encourage more students to take rigorous classes. Knowing how many students who chose MCC were also accepted at a 4-year college, may illustrate that our students need to be directed to aggressively seek merit money.  It’s only by beginning a dialogue about why so many of our students are not choosing a four-year college when it is their intention to earn a four-year degree that the district can be assured that all MHS students have equal opportunity. As educational leaders, the members of the Board of Education are in the best position to pursue this issue and find an answer to why so many MHS students are choosing MCC.

Beginning at a community college is not always the most efficient way, nor sometimes even the most economical way, of pursuing a 4-year degree, if that’s the intention.  Alternatives need to be explored. For example, attending a four-year college and commuting from home could be an option (especially with Rutgers, Montclair and Kean so nearby) or applying for merit money (many four-year colleges award money to students with average GPAs and SAT scores).

Individual students and their families must make the best choice for themselves, of course. For students who are not seeking a four-year degree, there are viable alternatives – community colleges, trade schools, the military, and the workforce.

Until the facts are examined, however, we won’t know why so many Metuchen graduates are not enrolling in 4-year colleges. All MHS parents and students should be informed about the best way to ensure a 4-year degree, and given all the tools to make the best choice.  We respectfully request that the Board of Education takes a serious look at how to give all MHS kids who intend to earn a 4-year degree an equal opportunity by exploring ways for them to begin their studies at a four-year college.


[1] Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Education Pays”, 2009, http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm

[2] Breakthrough Collaborative.  Breakthrough White Paper:  Four Year Colleges vs. Community Colleges. 2009.http://btresearch.wordpress.com/2009/01/16/whats-the-best-path-4-year-vs-2-year-colleges/

[3] Bowen, William G. et al. “Helping Students Finish the 4-Year Run,” The Chronicle of Higher Education (September 8, 2009). http://chronicle.com/article/Helping-Students-Finish-the/48329/

[4] Fitzpatrick, Laura. ”Can Community Colleges Save the U.S. Economy,” Time Magazine (July 20, 2009). http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1909623,00.html

[5] New Jersey School Report Card for 2009, http://education.state.nj.us/rc/rc09/index.html

[6] City-Data profile for Metuchen, http://www.city-data.com/city/Metuchen-New-Jersey.html