The Yearly Report Card

Education Dept. highlights increasing number of higher-level courses taken in high school, and reliance on federal grants for college.
June 1, 2007

It's June 1, which can only mean one thing for education wonks: It's the deadline for another comprehensive report from the National Center for Education Statistics. Like previous reports, this one looks at myriad aspects of the state of education, from elementary school to college, with a special focus this year on high school course-taking patterns. But the findings on student aid might prove to be the most relevant for observers of higher education.

The report, "The Condition of Education 2007", was released on Thursday. Among other statistics, it found that the percentage of low-income dependent students taking out federal loans was virtually flat from 1992-2004, at nearly 48 percent, but the percentage of students with federal grants grew from 68 to 72 percent. During the same period, loan amounts as a percent of total federal aid decreased from 38 to 34 percent.

At the high school level, the report found, through an analysis of transcripts from private and public schools, that the average number of Carnegie units (a class meeting 4-5 times a week for the whole school year) taken by students while in high school has increased since 1982, from 21.7 to 25.8 in 2004. There were also increases in every major subject area, a phenomenon that was made possible, apparently, by less emphasis on vocationally oriented classes.

More students are also taking advanced mathematics -- 50 percent of high school graduates have taken courses more advanced than Algebra II, up from 26 percent in 1982 -- with females more likely to have completed advanced coursework, although the gender difference disappears at the calculus level. There was a similar gain, and a similar gap, in advanced science coursework.

Despite these gains in the number of credits taken overall in various subjects, and especially in more advanced courses, National Assessment of Educational Progress scores were virtually flat for 17-year-olds in both reading and math since the early 1970s. Still, there were gains in NAEP scores for 9- and 13-year-olds in both subject areas.

The report also highlighted other findings relating to higher education:

  • In further proof of a growing trend, 57.4 percent of bachelor's degrees were awarded to women in the 2004-2005 school year, up from 49.0 percent in 1979-1980. By 2016, the projected enrollment of women in degree-granting two- and four-year institutions will be above 10 million, compared to around 7 million men.
  • Half of all full-time students and 85 percent of part-time students between ages 16-24 were also employed in 2005.
  • American students are more likely to graduate with degrees in business, social sciences, and the arts than those in other industrialized nations such as Canada, France and Japan. The United States had the lowest percentage of students graduating with degrees in engineering -- 6 percent -- out of the countries surveyed in 2004.
  • Over time, however, the breakdown of majors in American college graduates has stayed relatively consistent since 1990, although the percentage of those graduating with degrees in education declined from 10 to 7 percent, and the visual and performing arts became slightly more popular (6 percent, from 4).

The report is released annually by the national center, which is part of the Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences.


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