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More High School Students Are Going to College Than Ever Before

The number of high school students taking math and science classes and going straight to college is up from a generation ago.

Today's high school students are taking more math and science courses and more are going straight to college after graduation than their peers from a generation ago. That's the finding of "The Condition of Education 2012" a just-released report from the National Center of Educational Statistics, which covers all aspects of education, from preschool through through college.

In 1990, only 49 percent of high school graduates had taken chemistry and only 21 percent had taken physics. But, by 2009, the number of high school graduates with a chemistry class on their transcript had jumped to 70 percent, and 36 had taken physics. Most encouraging of all, in 2009, 30 percent of high school graduates had taken biology, chemistry, and physics in high school, up from only 19 percent taking all three in 1990.

There was also a slight increase when it came to advanced math classes. In 1990, only 7 percent of grads had taken a calculus class, and a mere 1 percent had taken statistics. By 2009, 16 percent of seniors had taken calculus and 11 percent had taken statistics. The rigorous coursework is helping to ensure that today's students are prepared to go to college immediately after graduation. In 1979, only 49 percent of students headed to either a two-year or four-year college right after high school, but that jumped to a high of 70 percent in 2009.

The growth is encouraging, but there are still significant differences along racial and ethnic lines. In 2010, 88 percent of Asian seniors went to college right after high school—higher than that of any other group. That's up from 80 percent in 2003, the first year the NCES tracked this statistic for Asian students. In comparison, only 70 percent of white students (up from 51 percent in 1975) and 66 percent of black students (up from 43 percent in 1975) go to college right after high school. The number of Hispanic students going straight to college—60 percent—is about the same as it was a generation ago.

While the racial disparities in college attendance are concerning, the differences when the data is broken down by income are especially startling. Only 52 percent of high school grads from low-income families and 67 percent of grads from middle-income families enrolled in college right away, compared to 82 percent of students from high-income families. It's been said plenty of times before, but this latest set of data makes it worth repeating: If we really want to reach our ambitious college readiness and completion goals, ensuring that students, regardless of race, ethnicity, or family income are able to attend is the key.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user Jim, the Photographer.

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