Post–High School Transitions

The U.S. educational system strives to prepare every high school graduate for a career or for college, although more progress needs to be made in ensuring that students are ready for the demands of college or the workforce (Achieve Inc. 2016; ACT 2018; NCEE 2013; Pellegrino and Hilton 2012). This section begins with a discussion of the transition to postsecondary education and then provides information on those individuals who transition directly from high school into the workforce, specifically the STW.

Transition to Postsecondary Education

Over the past decades, U.S. high school graduation rates have been rising steadily, reaching 84% in 2016 (McFarland et al. 2018). Although high school completion represents a major milestone for adolescents, most of today’s fastest-growing, well-paying jobs—especially those in STEM fields—require at least some postsecondary education (Carnevale et al. 2018; Hinojosa et al. 2016; Hout 2012). In addition, students who enter postsecondary education immediately after high school are more likely to persist and attain a degree compared to students who delay their enrollment (Bozick and DeLuca 2005). Given the importance of postsecondary education and the higher completion rates for those who enter immediately after high school, this section focuses on indicators related to U.S. students’ transition from high school to postsecondary education. It presents information about AP coursetaking, in which students can earn college credits for courses taken in high school. It then presents national data on trends in immediate college enrollment after high school and examines the relationship between high school mathematics and science preparation and the decision to major in STEM fields at the postsecondary level.

Participation in the Advanced Placement Program

The AP program is one of the largest and most well-known programs offering high school students the opportunity to take college-level courses. Other such opportunities include the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which also offers college-level courses to high school students, and dual enrollment, in which students enroll in college courses while in high school. AP, IB, and dual enrollment programs all offer students the opportunity to take rigorous courses while in high school. Research has shown that rigorous high school coursework is associated with positive academic and postsecondary outcomes (Long, Conger, and Iatarola 2012; Warne et al. 2015). Specific data about STEM coursetaking in dual enrollment and IB programs are not currently available, so this section focuses on AP coursetaking.

The AP program, administered by the College Board, offered college-level courses to high school students in 38 different subjects in 2018, including 12 courses in mathematics and science, although access to these courses varies by high school (GAO 2018). Students must earn a score of at least 3 or higher out of 5 on an AP exam to be eligible to earn college credits. Between 2007 and 2017, the number of U.S. public high school graduates who took at least one AP exam increased from 691,437 (24% of the students in the class of 2007) to 1,174,554 (38% of the students in the class of 2017); 23% of the students in the class of 2017 earned a score of 3 or higher (College Board 2018). Although the College Board has made progress in ensuring equal access to AP courses and exams, research shows that underrepresented minority students do not have equal access to these courses (Kolluri 2018). In addition, black students earn a 3 or higher on AP exams at lower rates than their white and Asian peers (College Board 2018). College Board research shows that black students represented 14% of the students in the class of 2017 but only 4% of the students who earned a score of 3 or higher. In contrast, white students and Hispanic students were equally represented in the population and in the percentage of students earning a 3 or higher, at approximately 56% and 23%, respectively (College Board 2018).

Analysis of the Advanced Placement Program in SEI 2018

Indicators 2018 indicated that among STEM AP courses, calculus AB was the most common exam, taken by 308,000 students in 2016, with 60% earning a 3 or higher. Rates of students earning a 3 or higher for the mathematics and science exams in 2016 ranged from a low of 40% for physics 1 to a high of 81% for calculus BC (NSB Indicators 2018: Participation and Performance in the Advanced Placement Program). Mathematics and science AP exam taking in 2016 varied by students’ sex. Although the students who took calculus AB, statistics, and chemistry exams were about evenly split by sex, male students predominated at advanced levels—for example, male students represented more than 70% of all advanced physics exam takers in 2016. The State Indicators data tool provides additional information about AP coursetaking at the state level.

Enrollment in Postsecondary Education

After completing high school, the majority of students go directly into postsecondary education (Dalton, Ingels, and Fritch 2018). Of the 3.1 million students who completed high school or a General Educational Development (GED) in 2016, some 2.2 million (70%) enrolled in a 2- or 4-year college by the following October (McFarland et al. 2018).

According to data from the Current Population Survey, immediate college enrollment rates have increased over time (NCES 2019). Between 1980 and 2016, the percentage of high school graduates making an immediate transition to college increased from 49% to 70% (Figure 1-10). In addition, immediate enrollment rates rose faster between 1980 and 2016 for 4-year institutions (from 30% to 46%) than 2-year institutions (from 19% to 24%).

Despite these increases, enrollment gaps among demographic groups have persisted over time (Table S1-6). In 2016, students from high-income families enrolled at a considerably higher rate in postsecondary education than students from low- and middle-income families (83% versus 65% for both low- and middle-income families) (Figure 1-11). White and Hispanic students enrolled at a higher rate than black students (70% for white and 68% for Hispanic students versus 58% for black students), and Asian students had the highest immediate enrollment rate overall (86%).

Immediate college enrollment rates among high school graduates, by institution type: 1980–2016

Note(s):

The figure includes students ages 16–24 who completed high school in each survey year. Immediate college enrollment rates are defined as rates of high school graduates enrolled in college in October after completing high school. Before 1992, high school graduates referred to those who had completed 12 years of schooling. As of 1992, high school graduates are those who have received a high school diploma or equivalency certificate. Detail may not add to total due to rounding.

Source(s):

McFarland J, Hussar B, Wang X, Zhang J, Wang K, Rathbun A, Barmer A, Forrest Cataldi E, and Bullock Mann F, The Condition of Education 2018, NCES 2018-144 (2018), Tables 302.10, 302.20, 302.30. See Table S1-6.

Science and Engineering Indicators

Immediate college enrollment rates among high school graduates, by demographic characteristics: 2016

SES = socioeconomic status.

Note(s):

The figure includes students ages 16–24 who completed high school prior to October 2016. Immediate college enrollment rates are defined as rates of high school graduates enrolled in college in October after completing high school. Hispanic may be any race; race categories exclude Hispanic origin.

Source(s):

McFarland J, Hussar B, Wang X, Zhang J, Wang K, Rathbun A, Barmer A, Forrest Cataldi E, and Bullock Mann F, The Condition of Education 2018, NCES 2018-144 (2018), Tables 302.10, 302.20, 302.30. See Table S1-6.

Science and Engineering Indicators

Declaration of Postsecondary STEM Major

With the goals of maintaining global competitiveness and enhancing capacity for innovation, U.S. policymakers have called for increasing the number and diversity of students pursuing postsecondary degrees and careers in STEM fields (Allen-Ramdial and Campbell 2014; Committee on STEM Education 2018; Hanson and Slaughter 2017). This has focused attention on the STEM pipeline and how to move more students into and through it (Gottfried and Bozick 2016). Research has shown that high school coursetaking and achievement in mathematics and science are related to students’ choice of a postsecondary STEM major and, therefore, are essential components of the STEM pipeline (Bottia et al. 2015; Lichtenberger and George-Jackson 2013). Research also shows that female students and black and Hispanic students are less likely to declare postsecondary STEM majors and less likely to attain STEM degrees (Riegle-Crumb, King, and Irizarry 2019; Wang and Degol 2016).

This section uses national data from the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09) to explore how high school mathematics and science preparation is related to students’ declaration of STEM majors in college. Examining how high school factors are associated with the choice of a postsecondary STEM major helps policymakers and educators understand the formation of the STEM pipeline leading into college.

HSLS:09 is a longitudinal study of a nationally representative sample of approximately 20,000 students who were first surveyed in fall 2009 as ninth graders and were surveyed again in 2012, 2013, and then again approximately 3 years after most had completed high school, in 2016. In addition, their high school transcripts were collected in 2013. HSLS:09 data allow researchers to examine high school coursetaking and grades relative to postsecondary choices, such as declaration of a STEM major.

Overall, 41% of students in the HSLS:09 cohort declared a STEM major as of 2016 (Table 1-7). Declaration of a STEM major varied by several demographic characteristics, including race or ethnicity, parents’ education, and family socioeconomic status (Figure 1-12). Asian students (54%) were more likely than white (41%), black (40%), and Hispanic (42%) students to declare a STEM major. In addition, students whose parents had completed a bachelor’s degree (45%) were more likely than students whose parents had completed high school or less (39%) to declare a STEM major, and students in the highest socioeconomic quintile (46%) were more likely than students in the lowest quintile to declare a STEM major (40%).

Students in grade 9 in fall 2009 who had enrolled in postsecondary education by the end of 2013 and declared a STEM major for their most recent undergraduate degree or certificate, by selected demographic characteristics, and mathematics and science preparation in high school: 2016

(Percent)

AP/IB = Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate; GPA = grade point average; STEM = science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

a Other includes American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and respondents having origins in more than one race. Hispanic may be any race; race categories exclude Hispanic origin.

b The highest level of education achieved by either of the parents or guardians in a two-parent household or by the only parent or guardian in a one-parent household.

c General science includes earth science; general life or physical science; first-year biology, chemistry, and physics; integrated and unified science; and general science courses such as origins of science and scientific research and design.

d Specialty science includes courses such as geology, botany, zoology, and independent studies in biology, chemistry, or physics.

Note(s):

STEM major considers both first and second majors declared by students for their most recent undergraduate degree or certificate. Estimates for mathematics, science, computer science, and engineering majors and social science and psychology majors do not add to total because some students declared majors in both areas. Columns do not add to 100% because each category represents the percentage of all students in that category who declared a STEM major. Social science courses study human society and social relationships and include such courses as anthropology, economics, political science, and sociology.

Source(s):

Radford AW, Fritch LB, Leu K, and Duprey M, High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09) Second Follow-Up: A First Look at Fall 2009 Ninth-Graders in 2016, NCES 2018-139 (2018); National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation, special tabulations (2018) of HSLS:09, National Center for Education Statistics, Department of Education.

Science and Engineering Indicators

Students in grade 9 in fall 2009 who had enrolled in postsecondary education by the end of 2013 and declared a STEM major for their most recent undergraduate degree or certificate, by selected demographic characteristics: 2016

STEM = science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Note(s):

STEM major considers both first and second majors declared by students for their most recent undergraduate degree or certificate. Hispanic may be any race; race categories exclude Hispanic origin. Parental education is the highest level of education achieved by either of the parents or guardians in a two-parent household or by the only parent or guardian in a one-parent household.

Source(s):

Radford AW, Fritch LB, Leu K, and Duprey M, High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09) Second Follow-Up: A First Look at Fall 2009 Ninth-Graders in 2016, NCES 2018-139 (2018); National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation, special tabulations (2018) of HSLS:09, National Center for Education Statistics, Department of Education.

Science and Engineering Indicators

Higher levels of mathematics and science achievement in high school (as measured by grade point average [GPA]) and preparation (as measured by coursetaking) were associated with declaration of a STEM major in postsecondary education (Figure 1-13). For example, 55% of students who earned a GPA of 3.5 or higher in high school mathematics declared a postsecondary STEM major, compared with 46% of students with a mathematics GPA in the 3.00–3.49 range, 40% of students with a mathematics GPA in the 2.50–2.99 range, and 32% of students with a mathematics GPA under 2.50. Similar patterns were observed for science GPA.

Students with advanced coursetaking in mathematics and science, as measured by the number of credits earned in AP or IB mathematics or science courses, were more likely to declare a postsecondary STEM major. Fully 70% of students who earned more than one AP or IB science credit declared a postsecondary STEM major, and 67% of students who earned more than one AP or IB mathematics credit did so. In comparison, 37% of students who did not earn any credit in AP or IB science or mathematics declared a postsecondary STEM major.

Students in grade 9 in fall 2009 who had enrolled in postsecondary education by the end of 2013 and declared a STEM major for their most recent undergraduate degree or certificate, by mathematics and science preparation in high school: 2016

AP/IB = Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate; GPA = grade point average; STEM = science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Note(s):

STEM major considers both first and second majors declared by students for their most recent undergraduate degree or certificate.

Source(s):

Radford AW, Fritch LB, Leu K, and Duprey M, High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09) Second Follow-Up: A First Look at Fall 2009 Ninth-Graders in 2016, NCES 2018-139 (2018); National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation, special tabulations (2018) of HSLS:09, National Center for Education Statistics, Department of Education.

Science and Engineering Indicators

Transition to the Skilled Technical Workforce

Approximately 28% of fall 2009 ninth graders did not immediately enroll in postsecondary education after high school graduation (Radford et al. 2018). Of those high school graduates, 85% worked for pay since leaving high school, and of those who worked for pay, 14% entered STW occupations (Table S1-7 and Table S1-8). STW occupations are those that employ significant levels of science and engineering (S&E) expertise and technical knowledge but do not necessarily require a 4-year degree for entry. The Indicators 2020 forthcoming report “Science and Engineering Labor Force” provides an expanded STW discussion, whereas the present report focuses on what can be learned from the HSLS:09 data.

Workers in skilled technical occupations made up about 12% of the U.S. workforce in 2014 (Rothwell 2016). This STW plays an important role in the labor market, and STW jobs are seen as a viable pathway into the middle class (Rothwell 2015). Research by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2017) suggests that the current U.S. market does not have enough skilled technical workers to meet employer demand, and policymakers and educators are figuring out how to adequately prepare students who are not pursuing bachelor’s degrees for skilled technical jobs. The National Academies of Sciences report indicates that students follow a variety of pathways into skilled technical jobs: some enter directly after high school, while others pursue postsecondary certifications, associate’s degrees, or similar levels of education. Still others earn certifications on the job or pursue further education while employed.

This section draws on data from HSLS:09 to examine the school-to-workforce transition among fall 2009 ninth graders who entered the job market after leaving high school without enrolling in postsecondary education. It discusses their participation in STW versus non-STW jobs (as of 3 years after leaving high school), including earnings patterns and the association between occupational choices and high school STEM courses. This STW analysis shows that STEM-related career and technical education participation has a stronger association with post–high school transitions to the STW than mathematics or science courses (Table 1-8). STEM-related career and technical education is significantly associated with whether students entered STW jobs. The STW workforce in this cohort is made up primarily of men—79% of students who entered the STW were male, and 21% were female (Table 1-9). In comparison, 59% of students who entered the job market directly after high school were male, and 41% were female. The racial and ethnic distribution of the STW also differs from the overall distribution of those entering the workforce, with white students more likely to hold an STW job (58% in the STW versus 47% overall) and black and Hispanic students less likely to do so (10% versus 16% and 15% versus 25%, respectively).

Distribution of occupation and median standardized hourly wage for current or most recent job of students in grade 9 in fall 2009 who had not enrolled in postsecondary education and had worked for pay since leaving high school, by mathematics and science preparation in high school: 2016

(Percent and dollars per hour)

s = suppressed for reasons of confidentiality and/or reliability.

AP/IB: Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate; GPA = grade point average; STW = skilled technical workforce.

a Earnings reported in a format other than dollars per hour (e.g., dollars per month or per year) were standardized to dollars per hour.

Note(s):

About 28% of students in grade 9 in fall 2009 had not enrolled in postsecondary education as of February 2016.

Source(s):

Radford AW, Fritch LB, Leu K, and Duprey M, High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09) Second Follow-Up: A First Look at Fall 2009 Ninth-Graders in 2016, NCES 2018-139 (2018); National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation, special tabulations (2018) of HSLS:09, National Center for Education Statistics, Department of Education.

Science and Engineering Indicators

Distribution of occupation and median standardized hourly wage for current or most recent job of students in grade 9 in fall 2009 who had not enrolled in postsecondary education and had worked for pay since leaving high school, by selected demographic characteristics: 2016

(Percent and dollars per hour)

s = suppressed for reasons of confidentiality and/or reliability.

STW = skilled technical workforce.

a Earnings reported in a format other than dollars per hour (e.g., dollars per month or per year) were standardized to dollars per hour.

b Other includes American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and respondents having origins in more than one race. Hispanic may be any race; race categories exclude Hispanic origin.

c The highest level of education achieved by either of the parents or guardians in a two-parent household or by the only parent or guardian in a one-parent household.

Note(s):

About 28% of students in grade 9 in fall 2009 had not enrolled in postsecondary education as of February 2016.

Source(s):

Radford AW, Fritch LB, Leu K, and Duprey M, High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09) Second Follow-Up: A First Look at Fall 2009 Ninth-Graders in 2016, NCES 2018-139 (2018); National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation, special tabulations (2018) of HSLS:09, National Center for Education Statistics, Department of Education.

Science and Engineering Indicators

STW jobs generally pay more than non-STW jobs (Rothwell 2016). The median hourly wage for STW jobs for the analyzed group (i.e., 3 years out of high school) was about $1.00 higher than that for non-STW jobs ($10.97 versus $9.95 per hour) (Table 1-9). In STW jobs, male employees earned more than female employees ($11.17 versus $9.92 per hour), and white employees ($11.78) earned more than Hispanic employees ($10.02). Although high school mathematics achievement and highest mathematics course taken were not associated with whether students entered STW jobs (Table 1-8), mathematics achievement was associated with higher earnings in STW jobs. The median hourly wage for students who had a GPA above 3.0 in high school mathematics ($14.21) was higher than the median hourly wage for students who earned a high school mathematics GPA less than 2.50 ($10.45). High school science achievement and highest science course taken were not associated with differences in hourly wages for STW jobs.

The majority of U.S. high school students take career and technical education courses consisting of STEM- and non-STEM-related courses (Snyder, de Brey, and Dillow 2016). These courses are designed to provide students with the knowledge and skills needed for the workplace and may help students transition to the workforce or to postsecondary programs (Dougherty 2016; Kemple and Willner 2008). For high school students who entered the job market without enrolling in postsecondary education, not all career and technical education courses were related to STW entry and earnings (Table 1-10), but participation in STEM-related career and technical education courses, such as manufacturing and engineering, was related to entry and earnings.

Distribution of occupation and median standardized hourly wage for current or most recent job of students in grade 9 in fall 2009 who had not enrolled in postsecondary education and had worked for pay since leaving high school, by career and technical education preparation in high school: 2016

(Percent and dollars)

s = suppressed for reasons of confidentiality and/or reliability.

CTE = career and technical education; STW = skilled technical workforce.

a Earnings reported in a format other than dollars per hour (e.g., dollars per month or per year) were standardized to dollars per hour.

b CTE credits are credits earned in computer and information sciences; communication and audio/video technology; business and marketing; manufacturing; engineering and technology; health care sciences; public, protective, and government services; human services; hospitality and tourism; architecture and construction; agriculture, food, and natural resources; and transportation, distribution, and logistics.

Note(s):

About 28% of students in grade 9 in fall 2009 had not enrolled in postsecondary education as of February 2016.

Source(s):

Radford AW, Fritch LB, Leu K, and Duprey M, High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09) Second Follow-Up: A First Look at Fall 2009 Ninth-Graders in 2016, NCES 2018-139 (2018); National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation, special tabulations (2018) of HSLS:09, National Center for Education Statistics, Department of Education.

Science and Engineering Indicators

For example, students who earned career and technical education credits in manufacturing were more likely than students who did not earn these credits to have an STW job (25% versus 12%), as were students who earned career and technical education credits in engineering and technology (21% versus 13%); architecture and construction (19% versus 13%); agriculture, food, and natural resources (20% versus 12%); and transportation, distribution, and logistics (20% versus 13%). In addition, earning credits in transportation, distribution, and logistics was associated with higher earnings within STW jobs ($12.45 versus $10.48).