Career Learning for Adult Self-Sufficiency (CLASS)

HS Students Taking More Demanding Courses

Posted by Maisha Meminger - On October 23, 2012 (EST)

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has just released ”A comparison of college attendance and high school coursework from two cohorts of youth,” BLS Special Studies & Research, Volume 1, Number 14, October 2012. Comparing two age cohorts of high school students, from the latter 1970s/early 1980s vs. the latter 1990s/early 2000s, the younger students took much more demanding coursework in math, science and foreign languages. This, combined with individuals’ rising propensity to pursue postsecondary education, suggests a workforce that is better skilled than formerly.

The author, using high school transcript data (available for about 70 percent of the sample), chose these subject areas because the progression of coursework difficulty is more easily measured than for other courses. Math and science were each divided into five levels of difficulty, while foreign language was divided into three levels — in all cases the lowest level represented no coursework taken in the subject.

The historical differences were dramatic (pp. 2-4). The proportion taking math at the upper two levels (the highest level being calculus) rose from 10 to 35 percent between the older and younger cohorts (p. 2). Similarly, the proportion that took the highest level science courses (chemistry and physics) rose from 3 to 27 percent. The share who took two or more years of a foreign language rose from 30 percent to slightly more than half.

Note that transcript comparison data are also available from the U.S. Department of Education’s various longitudinal studies. For the relevant links, see Links to Longitudinal Surveys.

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Modified On : October 23, 2012
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