University of Maine, Orono students attend the 2013 graduation ceremony at Alfond Arena Saturday, May 11 2013. Brian Feulner | BDN Credit: Brian Feulner | Bangor Daily News

Editor’s note: This is a continuation of an ongoing series, Your School, that examines what is holding back teachers, principals, parents and communities from helping students realize their full potential, and aims to hold up promising efforts that other places might learn from. Along the way, please write to us with questions and ideas for coverage at

Maine public schools with higher rates of poverty in 2009 and 2010 were less likely to see graduates complete any college program within the next six years.

A Maine Focus analysis of school-level education data found higher rates of poverty correlated with a lower rate of college completion.

The analysis doesn’t prove poverty’s causing lower completion rates, but it suggests poverty as one variable in predicting which schools will have more graduates receive college degrees.

In general, schools with lower poverty rates were likely to see a larger share of their graduating classes go on to finish two- or four-year degree programs within the six years after high school graduation.

The analysis is limited only to the graduating classes in 2009 and 2010, based on the best available data from the National Student Clearinghouse and published by the Maine Department of Education.

A 2014 study at the University of Southern Maine found “the level of poverty in a school is the single best predictor of average student performance, but other factors also play a role in influencing student achievement.”

Many schools diverged from the overall trend, and a closer look at the data shows how each school compares with the rest.

For instance, Mt. Abram Regional High School ranked in the 80th percentile of Maine schools for the share of graduates completing a degree. It also ranked in the 80th percentile for its share of students eligible for free-or-reduced lunch.

Greenville Consolidated School, Telstar High School in Bethel and Buckfield High School also performed well for student degree attainment despite higher poverty rates.

On the other end of the spectrum, Boothbay Region High School, Islesboro Central School, Bucksport High School and Richmond High School had generally lower poverty rates, but still ranked among the state’s worst for having students end up with college degrees after six years.

College isn’t the only path out from high school, but it does generally lead to higher earnings.

That finding applies in aggregate, but not to the variety of personal experiences or even outliers at the individual school levels.

David Silvernail, director of the Center for Education Policy, Applied Research and Evaluation at the University of Southern Maine, wrote in an email that while poverty is the highest single factor correlated with college attainment, poverty rates explain only some of the variation in getting a degree.

“Attending a higher poverty school does not have to mean lower performance,” Silvernail wrote.

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Darren Fishell

Darren is a Portland-based reporter for the Bangor Daily News writing about the Maine economy and business. He's interested in putting economic data in context and finding the stories behind the numbers.