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Science and Engineering Indicators 2004
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Chapter 1:
Student Performance in Mathematics and Science
Mathematics and Science Coursework and Student Achievement
Curriculum Standards and Statewide Assessments
Curriculum and Instruction
Teacher Quality
Teacher Induction, Professional Development, and Working Conditions
Information Technology in Schools
Transition to Higher Education
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Figure 1-35

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Figure 1-36

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Figure 1-37

Elementary and Secondary Education

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Transition to Higher Education

Immediate Transition From High School to Postsecondary Education
Access to Postsecondary Education: An International Comparison
Remedial Education in College

Adequate preparation of high school graduates for their transition to postsecondary education remains a concern. This section examines data on the college enrollment rates of high school graduates, compares postsecondary participation at the international level, and describes remedial coursetaking by U.S. college students.

Immediate Transition From High School to Postsecondary Education top of page

The percentage of high school graduates who enrolled in postsecondary education immediately after graduation has increased over the past 3 decades, rising from 47 percent in 1973 to 62 percent in 2001 (figure 1-35 figure and appendix table 1-19 Microsoft Excel icon) (NCES 2003a). The enrollment rate of any particular cohort or subgroup depends on several factors, including academic preparedness, access to financial resources (e.g., personal resources and financial aid), the value placed on postsecondary education relative to alternatives such as working, and the job market for high school graduates.

Sex, Race/Ethnicity, and Family Income

The immediate enrollment rate of high school graduates in 2- and 4-year colleges has increased more for females than males (figure 1-35 figure and appendix table 1-19 Microsoft Excel icon). Between 1973 and 2001, the rate at which females enrolled in postsecondary institutions increased from 43 to 64 percent, whereas the rate for males increased from 50 to 60 percent.

The immediate enrollment rate for white high school graduates increased from 48 percent in 1973 to 64 percent in 2001 (figure 1-35 figure and appendix table 1-19 Microsoft Excel icon). For black graduates, the immediate enrollment rate increased from 32 percent in 1973 to 55 percent in 2001. Although enrollment rates for blacks were generally lower than those for whites, the gap between the two groups has diminished since 1983. Among Hispanics, immediate enrollment rates remained relatively constant between 1973 and 2001; thus, the gap between Hispanic students and white students has increased.

The gap in immediate postsecondary enrollment rates between high school graduates from high- and low-income families persisted from 1973 to 2001 (figure 1-35 figure and appendix table 1-19 Microsoft Excel icon). This gap reflects both differences in academic preparation and in financial resources available to pay college costs. It also reflects differences in the degree to which students take preparatory steps that lead to college enrollment such as aspiring to a bachelor's degree, taking a college admissions test, and applying for admission (NCES 2002a).

Access to Postsecondary Education: An International Comparison top of page

Many countries have high rates of participation in education beyond secondary school. In 2000, OECD countries had an average 45 percent first-time entry rate into tertiary type A education programs leading to the equivalent of a bachelor's or higher degree, and an average 15 percent first-time entry rate into tertiary type B programs that focus on practical, technical, or occupational skills for direct entry into the workforce (figure 1-36 figure).[20]

In 2000, U.S. students had entry rates of 43 and 14 percent for tertiary type A and B programs, respectively, which are comparable to the OECD country averages. Finland, New Zealand, Sweden, Iceland, Hungary, and Poland had entry rates for tertiary type A education of more than 60 percent, all significantly higher than the U.S. entry rate. At one time, the United States had a higher entry rate compared with most OECD countries (OECD 1992). However, many OECD countries have adopted policies to expand postsecondary education during recent years, leading to substantially increased participation. In OECD countries, the average 17-year-old in 2000 could be expected to go on to complete approximately 2.5 years of tertiary education, of which 2 years would be full-time study (OECD 2002).

Remedial Education in College top of page

Despite the increasing number of graduates who enter college immediately after high school, many college freshmen apparently lack adequate preparation for higher education. Many postsecondary institutions (78 percent in 1995, for example) offer remedial courses to those needing assistance in doing college-level work (Lewis, Farris, and Greene 1996). Participation in college-level remedial education is widespread (Adelman, Daniel, and Berkovitz forthcoming). About 4 out of 10 students in the NELS:88 cohort who attended postsecondary institutions between 1992 and 2000 took at least one remedial course during their college years: 16 percent took one remedial course, 15 percent took two to three remedial courses, and 9 percent took four or more such courses (figure 1-37 figure).

Remedial coursetaking was related to students' post-secondary attainment level and the type of institution they first attended. Students who had earned at least a bachelor's degree by 2000 took fewer remedial courses than those who did not. Among those who did not earn any degree but who did accumulate undergraduate credits, at least half took a minimum of one remedial course. Remedial coursetaking occurred more often at community colleges than at 4-year institutions. About 62 percent of students who first attended community colleges took at least one remedial course compared with 20 percent of those who first attended doctoral degree-granting institutions and 30 percent of those who first attended other types of 4-year institutions (figure 1-37 figure). These participation rates may reflect the remedial course offerings of different types of institutions, because 2-year community colleges typically serve as important providers of remedations.  In 1995, almost all public 2-year institutions offered remedial reading, writing, and mathematics and 63 percent of private 4-year institutions offered remedial courses in these subjects (Lewis, Farris, and Greene 1996). In 2000, enrollment in remedial mathematics courses accounted for 14 percent of total mathematics enrollment in 4-year institutions and 60 percent in 2-year institutions (Lutzer, Maxwell, and Rodi 2002). Although undergraduate enrollment in remedial mathematics courses in 4-year institutions declined by 16 percent from 1990 to 2000, enrollment in remedial mathematics courses in 2-year institutions increased by 5 percent during the same period (Lutzer, Maxwell, and Rodi 2002). Enrollments in remedial S&E courses are not known.


[20]  Tertiary type A programs are theoretically based and are designed to provide sufficient qualifications for entry into advanced research programs or professions with high skill requirements. Tertiary type B programs focus on occupationally specific skills so that students can directly enter the labor market. Entry rates are obtained by dividing the number of first-time entrants of a specific age to each type of tertiary education by the total population in the corresponding age group and adding the entry rates for each single age group (OECD 2002). Entry rates do not refer to a specific population group. The U.S. entry rates reported by OECD cannot be directly compared with the immediate enrollment rates in figure 1-35 figure due to different definitions of postsecondary education and calculations of rates used in the OECD 2002 indicator report.

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