Wednesday, December 4, 2013

HA Graduates Excel in College

  “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”   – Derek Bok, former President of Harvard University

Let’s talk about the proverbial elephant in the room: HA is more expensive than our public and private school competitors in Dothan. Sure, we’re almost half the average cost ($22,700) of independent schools, nationally[1], and we are significantly less expensive than our peer schools in Montgomery[2], Birmingham[3], and Huntsville[4]. Still, I understand where we are – we’re not in Montgomery, Birmingham, or Huntsville; we’re in Dothan.  Moreover, I certainly understand that a Houston Academy education is a huge financial sacrifice for our families.

So, the question is: “Is it worth it?”

Speaking solely in terms of finance, I think we can predict some value with a Houston Academy education.  Over the last five years, our students have been awarded $16,874,012 in scholarships. That’s an average of $73,686 awarded per HA graduate.

However, as we all know, getting into college and getting a scholarship is one thing; keeping that scholarship and graduating from college is quite another. So, that begs the question of how our students actually perform once they get to college. Anecdotally, we always hear from our students how well prepared they are for college, but recently I received some hard data from Auburn University that should be very encouraging to our stakeholders.

Auburn sent us a report of how our graduates who attended Auburn have done through the spring semester of 2013.  What Auburn tells us is instructive. 

 To understand these statistics, we need to talk about what research tells us is a good predictor of college GPA.

Not to confuse you too much with statistics, but a common statistic in educational research is Pearson’s r. Pearson’s r is a correlation coefficient, which in layman’s terms, means that Pearson’s r measures the strength of a linear relationship.

Accordingly, as the value of r moves in either direction away from 0, the strength of the relationship gets stronger. Generally speaking (and there is certainly academic debate about this), an r-value of .40 or higher is considered to be a strong, positive relationship; an r-value of .30 or higher is considered to be a moderately positive relationship; and an r-value of .20 is considered to be a weak, positive relationship. Any r-value below .20 is of negligible strength.

In short, research I find to be fairly reliable (Richardson, Abraham, & Bond, 2012), indicates (not surprisingly) that two of the strongest predictors of college GPA are high school GPA (r = .40) and ACT/SAT score (r = .34). Academic self-efficacy is also a fairly strong predictor of college success, but that is a discussion for another time.[5]

In any case, the data that Auburn sent us tells us three things:
1.     Our students are doing MUCH better at Auburn than the general student population;
2.     Our students are doing better at Auburn than either their high school GPA or ACT would predict[6];
3.     The lower our students’ ACT/SAT scores and high school GPAs, the larger the difference between our students’ GPAs and other students at Auburn.

Without betraying any confidentiality, the table below illustrates that the cumulative GPA for HA graduates who are freshmen at Auburn is 3.76, while Auburn’s average freshman GPA was 3.05. That means that our HA graduates had GPAs that were .71 higher than the Auburn freshmen population, at-large. For our students who had an ACT score in the 28-36 range, the average, cumulative GPA was 3.91. For all other students the average GPA was 3.34 – a difference of .57. When comparing high school GPA to students’ GPA at Auburn, you can see that our graduates are earning a GPA at Auburn that is equal to or higher than the GPA they earned at HA.  That is NOT the case for other Auburn Freshmen.  On average, most Auburn freshmen are doing worse in college than they did in high school.  What was most interesting to me in this regard was that our students who had GPAs at HA between 2.50-2.99 had the largest, positive difference from their Auburn counterparts (almost a full GPA point!).

Certainly, HA graduates’ relatively higher college GPAs will make a big difference when it comes time to apply to medical school, law school, or graduate school. Likewise, a higher college GPA certainly can’t hurt when it comes time for our graduates to get a job in an increasingly global and competitive market.

Of course, any statistician will tell you that we should be careful about extrapolating results like this to all our graduates or even attributing causation. However, when combined with HA graduates’ stories of how well prepared they are for college, we can reasonable assert that our primary mission as a college preparatory institution is being met.  Moreover, the ACT data would seem to contradict the notion that there is no benefit to the rigorous education provided at HA and that “smart kids” at other public and private schools across the state will do just as well as HA graduates. The fact is, on average (and in every single individual case), HA students are performing better than their peers at one of the nation’s premiere “Doctoral/research universities."

As an HA parent, I would classify that as good news!

Freshman GPAs at Auburn University

Auburn Freshmen/Houston Academy Graduates
All Auburn Freshmen
ACT of 28-36
ACT of 24-27
ACT of 20-23

HS GPA of 3.5-4.0
HS GPA of 3.0-3.49
HS GPA of 2.5-2.99

[5] My dissertation dealt heavily with the concept of self-efficacy, which in this sense is, basically, the belief that one’s hard work pays tangible results in terms of grades.