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Higher share of high school students enrolled in college prep

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Snapshot for October 18, 2006.

Higher share of high school students enrolled in college prep

By  Joydeep Roy

There has been a significant shift in the high school curriculum over the last 20 years that has resulted in many more students of all races and ethnicities taking college preparatory courses or similar academic programs.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), an arm of the U.S. Department of Education, has undertaken three longitudinal studies of U.S. high school students that allow us to examine the curriculum of high school sophomores in 1980, 1990, and 2002.1  A comparison of the enrollment of various ethnic/racial groups  in college preparatory or academic programs shows significant increases between 1980 and 2002 (see the chart below).

High school sophomores in college preparatory or academic program, by racial/ethnic group  

Between 1980 and 2002 the percentage of high school sophomores who reported that they were in a college preparatory or academic program increased from 33% to 51%. The increase was particularly noticeable for minorities: participation in college preparatory programs for black sophomores increased from 27% to 50%. The improvements among Hispanic and Native American sophomores were similar, increasing from 25% to 43%, and from 20% to 42%, respectively. These overall increases were similar for public, Catholic, and other private schools.

Similar reports from the NCES, relying on transcript studies of high school students, have found that there has been a steady increase in the percentage of high school graduates who take selected mathematics and science courses, and that the number of credits (Carnegie units) earned in academic courses by high school graduates has increased steadily since 1982. For example, the percentage of high school graduates who took both advanced algebra and geometry courses increased from 29% in 1982 to 50% in 1992, and the percentage taking physics, chemistry, and biology courses together increased from 10% to 22%. Similarly, the mean number of credits earned in academic courses increased from 14.54 for 1982 high school graduates to 18.47 for 1998 graduates (increasing from an average of 2.64 credits to 3.50 credits in mathematics, and from 2.22 credits to 3.15 credits in science).

1. These are based on the High School and Beyond (HS&B), National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88); and the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002) surveys

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