From 2007 to 2013, graduates of Howard County public schools who received free or reduced meals were 20 percent less likely to attend college than other graduates, according to a report released by the county's school system.

The report, "Post-secondary Outcomes for Graduates of the Howard County Public School System 2007–2014," analyzed the college attendance and completion rates of students who graduated from Howard County high schools in recent years. The data was supplied by the National Student Clearinghouse.


According to the report, 63 percent of county students who received FARMS attended college within a year of graduating high school, compared to 83 percent of graduates who did not receive FARMS.

Of those Howard County students who attended college within a year of graduation, 81 percent of students with FARMS status returned to college for a second year, compared to 93 percent of students without FARMS status.

Howard County students are eligible to participate in FARMS if their families earn less than federal income requirements, which are calculated based on household size and cost of living. For the 2015-2016 school year, a participating family of four must earn less than $44,863 a year.

The difference in college enrollment rates between students with and without FARMS status may be symptoms of poverty and its effect on student learning.

Eric Jensen, author of "Engagement with Poverty in Mind," named poor nutrition, depressive behavior, lack of hope, household instability and the stress of financial hardship among the obstacles faced by low-income students.

These obstacles have lasting effects from kindergarten through high school, according to a 2013 National Center for Education Statistics report.

"Research suggests that living in poverty during early childhood is associated with lower than average academic performance that begins in kindergarten, and extends through elementary and high school," stated the report, titled "Children Living in Property."

'Vision 2018: Fulfilling the Promise of Preparation'

Tracking the post-secondary outcomes of students is part of the Howard County school system's five-year plan, "Vision 2018: Fulfilling the Promise of Preparation," which was launched in 2013. Its objective, according to the report's introduction, is "to ensure that every student is prepared for success in a post-secondary institution or a career upon graduation,"

Howard County graduates attended college at a rate more than 10 percent higher than students around the country, according to the report and data from the National Center for Education Statistics. In 2012, the most recent year for which national numbers are available, 66 percent of high school graduates around the country enrolled in college in the fall, compared to 77 percent of Howard County graduates.

HCPSS Superintendent Renee Foose praised the county's overall college enrollment numbers while drawing attention to student groups that attended college at lower rates.

"While the report shows college participation and completion patterns for HCPSS graduates that are relatively strong as compared to national trends, it is most valuable in opening a window to factors that lead to — or hinder — success, especially among specific student groups," Foose said in a press release.

The good news, according to the report, is that college enrollment gaps have narrowed in recent years.

The difference in college enrollment rates between students with and without FARMS status narrowed from 27 percent in 2007 to 17 percent in 2013. The enrollment gap between the county's Hispanic and white graduates narrowed from 24 percent in 2007 to 16 percent in 2013.


However, minority and low-income student groups still lag in college enrollment and completion rates.

According to the report, from 2007 to 2013, Howard County's Hispanic graduates were the least likely to attend college of any student racial group; 64 percent attended college within a year after high school graduation compared to 73 percent of African-American students, 84 percent of Asian students and 85 percent of white students.

The report includes recommendations for how HCPSS might improve college enrollment rates, including developing a tool for schools to use to identify at-risk students early on, and analyzing obstacles that prevent students from attending and completing college.

The HCPSS report did not include data about students who went directly onto a career after high school graduation without enrolling in a post-secondary institution. It is not clear whether HCPSS will release a report about these students in the future.