Although the responsibility for improving college graduation rates has fallen primarily to higher education, a new study suggests high schools may have a role to play, as well.
The National School Boards Association's Center for Public Education released the report, called “High School Rigor and Good Advice: Setting Up Students to Succeed,” on Thursday.
According to the study, the rigor of the courses students take in high school is a strong predictor of whether they'll succeed in college.
The study outlines certain factors in high school that make students more successful in college, regardless of the student's socioeconomic background or how well the student achieved academically.
High-level math cited
The study focused on students who enrolled in a college or university in the summer or fall after they graduated high school.
In particular, the study examined factors that are more common among students who returned to college after their freshman year.
According to the study, students who took pre-calculus or calculus in high school had a better chance of returning for a second year of college than those who took no math beyond algebra II.
High-level math was an especially strong predictor among low-income students and low-achieving students.
Low socioeconomic status and low-achieving students at four-year schools who took higher-level math in high school were 22 percent more likely to stay in college than their counterparts who only took algebra II.
Among higher-income students with better academic backgrounds, students who took higher-level math were only 10 percent more likely to return for a second year.
Likewise, students who took Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses were more likely to persist in college, even when those students failed the end-of-course test. Those low-achieving, low-income students were 18 percent more likely to return for a second year at four-year colleges and universities, and 30 percent more likely to return at two-year schools.
Students who had higher GPAs and spent more time on homework also returned for a second year of college at a higher rate, according to the study.
Discussion is urged
Jim Hull, a Center for Public Education policy analyst, said the study was intended to identify factors that high schools can control. A wide range of factors predict how a student fares in college, he said.
Hull said he hoped the study would lead to a greater discussion about the value of Advanced Placement courses and high school counselors, who help students determine which courses to take and discuss with them how those choices might affect their academic careers.
“This is really a call to action to invest more in our high school counselors, so that we can get more out of our investment in our students,” he said.
"This is really a call to action to invest more in our high school counselors, so that we can get more out of our investment in our students."
— Jim Hull
Center for Public Education policy analyst