A list of graduating seniors from Proviso Math and Science Academy, published in the school newspaper, provides a glimpse into where 200 students from the District 209 selective-enrollment high school plan to attend college.

In the past several years, Proviso Township High School District 209 board members have asked the district to provide college follow-up information for Proviso Math and Science Academy, as well as Proviso East and West.

But the task is easier said than done. Once seniors have flown the coop, they are often hard to track down, and school districts have much better information about where students are admitted than where they actually go.

Some students also change their minds.

“At first I was going to attend Triton for my certificates and to take a small art course,” said graduating senior Monica Whitney. “I specifically want to study 2D animation and media arts.”

Instead, she’ll attend online courses through the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

“There are exams just as any other school. By the end of the entire course, you would have built a portfolio,” she said. “Pittsburgh offers financial aid, as well as scholarship opportunities, which I’m really grateful for because of the expense,” she said.

The self-reported list, published in the May Voice student newspaper, shows 45, or almost 25 percent, of seniors plan to attend Triton College or another area community college. Over half the seniors headed to a four-year college will stay in-state: 52 reported they’ll attend a school in the Illinois state university system, and 57 planned to attend a private four-year university in Illinois. Twenty-five students reported they’ll attend college out of state, with five students attending historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Eight students reported “undecided” or left the space blank. In the past, PMSA counselors told Forest Park Review that 100 percent of graduates are accepted into college, and either attend college or go into a branch of the military services.

D209 Community and Public Relations Coordinator Rob Daniel said the number of undecided/no-answer PMSA students this year is “on par” with previous years. He declined to provide totals for previous years.

Five students will spend next year in a branch of the armed services, with one slated for the U.S. Naval Academy, considered a “highly selective” university.

Four other students reported they’ll attend schools categorized as highly selective: Beloit College in Wisconsin, Grinnell College in Iowa, Northwestern University in Evanston and Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. Twenty-five (or 12 percent) will attend an out-of-state, four-year college/university.

The most-popular choice by far is Triton College, with 37 students reporting they plan to attend.

This breakdown is not uncommon for students in a school with the socio-economic profile of PMSA, said Beth Gilfillan, incoming president of the Illinois Association for College Admission Counseling. Gilfillan worked as a college counselor at PMSA, 2008-2010. Forty-four percent of students at PMSA are considered “low income” according to the Illinois Report Card.

“Many students at PMSA are first-generation college attendees,” she said. “Community college may be the choice they and their parents understand.”

In first-generation student populations, it’s important for college counselors to reach students and their parents early and let them know about their choices. Sometimes for-profit online schools and lenders can be predatory to low-income families who don’t understand their options, she said.

Many PMSA students from first-generation families “defy the odds” by starting in an honors program at Triton and moving forward from there, Gilfillan said.

During her tenure, PMSA’s first two years, two students were admitted to Ivy League schools — including one to Harvard — but both ended up going elsewhere where schools were “a better fit for them and their families,” she said.

The real measure of a high school’s student preparation is how many students have graduated from college four years later, Gilfillan said. This information is tracked by private companies, such as the Naviance National Student Clearinghouse. 

One Forest Park senior, Harlan Kuhr, was helped by a National Merit Scholarship, which will partially pay for him to attend the liberal arts school, Grinnell College. His father, Brian, said the socioeconomic demographics of PMSA students make it more like an open-enrollment high school in higher income districts, such as neighboring Oak Park and River Forest High School, which also sends most students to Triton. The Illinois Report Card says PMSA has 46 percent low-income students.

“PMSA doesn’t have the rep or the academic rigor that will get you into [a university like] Harvard,” Kuhr said. He pointed out most parents of high-achieving students who live in-district send their students to private high school, so they’re not part of the pool at PMSA.

PMSA students received $10,374,562 in college aid awards said district spokesman Daniel.

Out-of-state choices for students included Spellman College; Iowa Wesleyan; University of California-Irvine; Millikin University; University of Detroit-Mercy and the universities of Kentucky, Missouri, Memphis, Alabama, Charleston, Iowa and Indiana-Purdue in Indianapolis.

But some students want to stay near family and friends. Forest Park’s Whitney said she would prefer to get her whole degree online over four years rather than move to Pittsburgh.

“I don’t think I’d be able to make it out there in a whole other state,” she said.

Forest Park parents Sean and Andrea Blaylock are watching their second child, Simone, fledge to college. She’ll attend North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro. His oldest son graduated last year and headed to Georgia Tech.

“They actually got more aid to go out-of-state than to University of Illinois at Urbana,” Sean Blaylock said.

Forest Park senior Jonah Victorson is ready to get started as a business owner. He’s heading for the Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of Illinois Chicago Business School. Jonah has been working at Brown Cow Ice Cream for two years and also as a camp counselor in Melrose Park.

“Jonah was telling us he wanted to go to Triton to get some credits out of the way,” his mother said. However, UIC gave him enough aid to make the costs about the same.

“UIC is a better school, so that’s where he’s going,” she said.

Where are PMSA graduates going to college?

Most popular college choices:

Triton – 37

UIC – 20

U of I – 15

Elmhurst College – 11

Concordia University – 10

Dominican University – 8

Western Illinois – 8

Roosevelt University – 6

Columbia College, Illinois State, Southern Illinois – 4

Source: The Voice, PMSA student newspaper, May 2015

Jean Lotus

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...