The percentage of high school sophomores who plan to earn a bachelor's degree or higher reached 72 percent in 2002, up from 59 percent in 1990 and 41 percent in 1980.
The data are from an Education Department report released Thursday that focuses on the aspirations and skills of high school sophomores.
While the report found high levels of interest in going to college, it did not find matching levels of preparedness, and the gaps were particularly notable among some minority groups. Of sophomores who planned to complete a four-year degree, just under two thirds of white students were proficient in reading, while the share was just under one-third for black students and just over one-third for Hispanic students.
In mathematics, the preparation levels were worse. Of those planning to complete a four-year degree, 6 percent of black students, 12 percent of Hispanic students, and 33 percent of white students were proficient at level four of mathematics (intermediate concepts).
While minority students were less likely to be preparing for college, they were more likely to be taking school seriously. The report found that black (62 percent) and Hispanic
(53 percent) students were more likely than were white students (47 percent) to affirm that getting good grades was very important to them. Likewise, black (63 percent) and Hispanic (65 percent) students were more likely than white students (52 percent) to say that they went to school because the subjects were interesting and challenging.
The report was not encouraging for those who fear that male students are falling behind their female counterparts. Nearly twice as many females as males (20 percent versus 12 percent) expected to complete a doctoral or professional degree, whereas twice as many males as females (11 percent versus 5 percent) expected to end their education with a high school diploma or less.
The full text of "A Profile of the American High School Sophomore in 2002: Initial Results From the Base Year of the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002" may be found online at the Web site  of the National Center for Education Statistics.