High school math courses and college attendance in two generations

October 16, 2012

Students who graduated from high school in the late 1990s and early 2000s took more rigorous mathematics courses than those who graduated in the mid to late 1970s and early 1980s. Among the more recent graduates (who were born in the years 1980–1984), 11 percent completed high school calculus and 24 percent completed precalculus, trigonometry, or other advanced math. Among the earlier graduates (who were born in the years 1957–1964), just 2 percent completed high school calculus and 8 percent completed precalculus, trigonometry, or other advanced math.

Percent distribution of high school students born in 1957–1964 and 1980–1984 by the highest level of mathematics courses taken
[Chart data]

A more rigorous high school math curriculum is associated with a higher probability of attending college. This positive association grew stronger between the 1970s and 2000s. College attendance increased markedly during this period. (College attendance is defined here as having been enrolled in college by age 21.) The college enrollment rate increased from 53 percent among those born in 1957–1964 to 67 percent among those born in 1980–1984.

Percent of persons born in 1957–1964 and 1980–1984 who attended college by the highest level of high school mathematics courses taken
[Chart data]

Among the college students born in 1957–1964, more than 70 percent had completed one of the middle-level high school math curricula of algebra, geometry, or algebra 2. Fewer than 1 in 5 had completed an advanced high school math curriculum of calculus, precalculus, trigonometry, or other advanced math. Among the college students born in 1980–1984, nearly half took advanced high school math classes.

These data are from the National Longitudinal Surveys program. To learn more, see "A comparison of college attendance and high school coursework from two cohorts of youth" (HTML) (PDF), by Alison Aughinbaugh in Beyond the Numbers, volume 1, number 14, October 2012.

SUGGESTED CITATION

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, High school math courses and college attendance in two generations on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2012/ted_20121016.htm (visited October 21, 2014).

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