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Coming Soon to a Classroom Near You

October 10, 2005

More than two-thirds of students who were high school seniors in 2004 expected to complete a bachelor’s degree, and 35 percent planned to get a graduate or professional degree. But nearly two-thirds of the students who expected to get a four-year degree had not mastered intermediate level mathematics concepts as 12th graders, and nearly a third could not consistently solve simple problems based on low-level mathematical concepts, according to a study released Friday by the U.S. Education Department.

The survey by the National Center for Education Statistics, “A Profile of the American High School Senior in 2004: A First Look,” provides an array of demographic data and information about the plans and expectations of that group of young people, with a heavy emphasis on their views about postsecondary education.

The study finds that students in general have fairly ambitious expectations for postsecondary education. About three in five -- 61.6 percent -- said they expected to go on to a four-year institution after high school graduation, while 22.5 percent anticipated attending a community college and 8 percent planned to go to a vocational or trade school. The rest did not plan to continue or did not know whether they would.

A third of all students, 33.5 percent, expect a four-year degree to be their highest level of attainment, while another 35 percent anticipate going on to get a graduate or professional degree. Female students are more ambitious than men -- 41.2 percent expect to get more than a baccalaureate degree, compared to 28.8 percent of male students -- and among racial groups, Asian students aimed the highest, while Hispanic/Latino and American Indian students had the lowest expectations.

Students' expectations were also shaped significantly by the educational achievement of their parents and their socioeconomic background, as those in the top quarter of the American income scale and whose parents had more higher education tended to think they were on track to do the same, as seen in the following table:

High School Seniors' Expected Educational Achievement, by Gender, Race, and Family Background

  Students High school Some college 4-year degree Graduate/ professional degree Don't know
All 5.0 18.1 33.5 35.0 8.4
Gender          
Male 6.9 20.6 34.4 28.8 9.4
Female 3.1 15.6 32.7 41.2 7.4
Race          
American Indian 6.8 21.3 26.5 30.9 14.5
Asian/Pacific Islander 2.5 10.4 32.7 47.6 6.9
Black 5.0 18.8 32.1 35.3 8.8
Hispanic/Latino 6.4 23.1 28.2 28.8 13.5
Multiracial 6.1 16.3 36.4 30.6 10.7
White 4.7 17.3 35.1 35.9 7.0
Parents' education        
High school or less 9.4 27.2 29.8 22.0 11.5
Some college 5.1 20.9 35.6 29.4 9.0
College graduation 2.6 12.6 38.5 40.1 6.2
Graduate/professional degree 1.5 6.8 28.1 57.9 5.6
Socioeconomic status        
Lowest quarter 9.6 27.4 28.8 22.0 12.1
Middle 2 quarters 5.0 19.8 35.6 30.8 8.8
Highest quarter 1.3 7.4 33.4 53.2 4.6        

The study offers somewhat distressing evidence, though, for those concerned about the United States' ability to compete in science and technical fields that depend on students' mathematical abilities. It suggests a mismatch between what students hope to accomplish in college and their academic preparation, at least in mathematics.

While students with higher educational aspirations tended to have stronger mathematics skills, only about half (52.9 percent) of the students who expected to get a graduate or professional degree were found to have an "understanding of intermediate-level mathematical concepts" or "the ability to formulate multistep solutions to word problems." And a third of the students who planned to get a four-year degree had not mastered "simple problem solving, requiring the understanding of low-level mathematics concepts."

The Education Department study also offers some insight into what different groups of students are looking for in the choice of a college. If found that minority students are especially concerned about theoutcomes of their education -- black students were more inclined than their peers to cite a college's records in placing students into graduate school or jobs as "very important" factors in selecting an institution, for instance.

 

Percentage of College-Bound Students Citing Factors as "Very Important" in Selecting a College

Students Strong academic reputation Low expenses Good job placement Good graduate school placement Racial/ethnic makeup
All 57.6 35.6 59.1 42.8 14.0
Gender          
Male 51.8 33.3 55.8 38.2 14.0
Female 63.1 37.7 62.1 47.0 14.0
Race          
American Indian 61.3 33.9 59.6 46.6 14.8
Asian/Pacific Islander 66.2 33.1 64.9 54.2 19.1
Black 66.3 53.8 72.9 60.3 31.0
Hispanic/Latino 53.1 43 63.6 47.5 18.7
Multiracial 56.8 42.2 59.5 40.6 19.8
White 56.2 29.7 54.6 37.1 8.5
Parents' education        
High school or less 51.3 44.1 63.1 43.5 17.2
Some college 54.2 38.4 58.8 41.6 13.7
4-year degree 61.1 31.6 57.5 39.9 11.9
Graduate/ professional degree 67.4 24.7 56.4 47.6 13.2
Own expectations        
High school or less 37.7 36 50.9 38.2 23.9
Some college 38.2 42.8 58.1 30.2 17.5
4-year degree 54 35.6 55.8 33.7 13
Graduate/ professional degree 74 31 63.6 58 12.5

 

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