Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

High-School Math Courses and Completion of the Bachelor's Degree

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

High-School Math Courses and Completion of the Bachelor's Degree

Article excerpt

Using a national longitudinal sample of 5,257 young people who were pursuing the bachelor's degree, we studied how credits in intensive high school mathematics courses affected their completion versus noncompletion of the degree. Finishing one unit in any of four intensive math courses more than doubled the likelihood that participants would later complete the bachelor's degree. Effects were present above and beyond the effects of background variables, including early math ability. Implications of findings are presented.


Recent trends related to college enrollment and bachelor's degree completion have important implications for professional school counselors. Over the past two decades, the percentage of young people in the United States who expect to earn college degrees has increased (Wirt et al., 2000). The percentage of students who expect to later engage in professional occupations has likewise increased (Rasinski, Ingels, Rock, Pollack, & Wu, 1993). Over the past three decades, college enrollment in the United States has been steadily climbing (Wirt et al., 2002). There has also been a change in the advice that adults give students regarding college. In a 1980 to 1990 comparison (Rasinski et al.), fathers, mothers, teachers, and school counselors were more likely in 1990 to advise high school students to attend college. This increase was evident across socioeconomic classes, racial-ethnic groups, regions of the country, and achievement test score levels. For example, in the lowest fourth of test-scorers, 26% of sophomores in 1980 indicated that school counselors advised them to attend college after high school; whereas 56% in 1990 indicated that counselors advised them to attend college. One factor driving the increase in the number of students being advised to attend college may be economics. That is, Wirt et al. (2002) reported that the earnings gap between young people who have 4-year college degrees and those who do not widened through the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

Bachelor's degree attainment has also increased in importance on social and political levels. Adelman (1999) maintained that bachelor's degree attainment has become the accountability standard for higher education institutions. Bachelor's degree completion rates in the United States have risen over the past three decades. Wirt and colleagues (2002) reported increases in percentages of Latinos, African Americans, and Whites in the 25 to 29 age range who have completed the bachelor's degree. Completion rates for women have increased faster than rates for men. The bachelor's degree is a common criterion used by employers in hiring; when people earn a bachelor's degree they expand the range of occupational options open to them. Thus, it seems that the psychological benefits of degree completion (e.g., increased self-worth, increased sense of hopefulness) would also be high.


Some researchers have studied the long-term educational development of young people, using longitudinal data that spanned from middle school and high school to beyond high school. Hanson (1994) and Trusty and Harris (1999) examined students' expectations for post-secondary education, and how these expectations changed over time. Because these researchers studied students who were initially higher achievers in school, reduced (lowered) expectations over time were labeled "lost talent." That is, if a student showed early signs of academic talent and had an initial expectation to earn a bachelor's degree, and if the student's expectation for a bachelor's degree was reduced after high school graduation, the student's early talent was lost. In both of these studies, the strongest effect on lost talent was from socioeconomic status (SES), with lower levels of SES associated with more lost talent. Also, these researchers found, unexpectedly, that Whites were more likely than non-Whites to have reduced educational expectations and that young men had more lost talent than did young women. …

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