The distribution of beginning students enrolled in 4-year institutions across the three levels of course taking is displayed in figure A. Approximately one-third (31 percent) reported completing course work no higher than core curricula, one-half completed mid-level curricula, and the remaining one-fifth (19 percent) completed rigorous curricula.
The level of high school academic curriculum completed by beginning 4-year college students was associated with their demographic and socioeconomic characteristics and also with the economic status of the student body in their high schools. Specifically, students from low-income families, students whose parents had no more than a high school education, and students who graduated from high schools in which 25 percent or more of the students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches were less likely than their more advantaged counterparts to report completing rigorous high school curricula.
Related in part to family income, racial/ethnic group differences also were apparent. Black students were much less likely than either White or Asian/Pacific Islander students to complete rigorous curricula (8 percent versus 20 and 31 percent, respectively) and more likely to complete programs no higher than the core curriculum (42 percent versus 29 and 27 percent). Asian/Pacific Islander students were the most likely to complete rigorous curricula (31 percent). While it appears as though White students were more likely than Hispanic students to complete rigorous curricula (20 percent versus 16 percent) and less likely to complete no higher than core curricula (29 percent versus 34 percent), there was not enough statistical evidence to draw this conclusion.
High school academic curriculum also had an obvious association with where students first enrolled in college. As the level of curricula increased, so did students’ likelihood of attending selective 4-year colleges or universities.3 For example, 71 percent of students who completed rigorous curricula enrolled in a selective college or university, compared with 40 percent who completed mid-level curricula and 32 percent who completed core curricula or lower.