About 98 percent of 14- and 15-year-olds and 95 percent of 16- and 17-year-olds were enrolled in school in 2009; these percentages were similar to those for previous generations. For young adults between the ages of 18 and 24, however, the current generation has enrolled at higher rates than their predecessors did in 1980. In 2009, some 69 percent of 18- and 19-year-olds were enrolled in school, compared with 46 percent in 1980. In addition, about 52 percent of 20- and 21-year-olds were enrolled in school in 2009, compared with 31 percent in 1980, and 30 percent of 22- to 24-year-olds were enrolled in school in 2009, compared with 16 percent in 1980. In contrast to 1980, a greater percentage of females than males were enrolled in school in 2009. For example, among 22- to 24-year-olds, about 15 percent of females and 18 percent of males were enrolled in school in 1980; in 2009, some 32 percent of females and 29 percent of males were enrolled.
High School Coursetaking and Advanced Placement Participation
Over the last several decades, there have been changes in the courses that high school students take. In most cases, the percentages of students who had taken more advanced courses in mathematics and science increased between 1982 and 2009. For example, 76 percent of 2009 high school graduates had taken algebra II, compared with 40 percent of their 1982 peers. Similarly, 70 percent of graduates in 2009 had taken chemistry, compared with 32 percent of graduates in 1982. In the 2009–10 school year, over 1.8 million U.S. students took at least one Advanced Placement (AP) exam; this number increased from 0.6 million students in 1996–97. Females have made up a majority of AP takers since sex was first reported in 1996–97. In 2009–10, females made up 56 percent of AP test takers.
Reading and Mathematics Achievement
According to findings from the long-term trend of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), there were no significant changes in the overall reading achievement of 13- and 17-year-olds from 1980 to 2008, or during the more recent period of 2004 to 2008. While average mathematics scores increased overall between 1982 and 2008 for 13- and 17-year-olds, no measurable changes were found from 2004 to 2008. For both subjects, in 2008, differences in achievement were found by demographic characteristics. For example, Whites and Asians scored higher in both subjects, on average, than their Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native counterparts. Between 1980 and 2008 for reading and between 1982 and 2008 for mathematics, the score gaps between Whites and Blacks decreased for both 13- and 17-year-olds.
In 2009, according to results from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 6 of the 34 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries scored higher than U.S. 15-year-olds in reading, 13 scored lower, and 14 had scores that were not measurably different. In mathematics in 2009, U.S. 15-year-olds scored lower, on average, than their peers in 17 of the 34 OECD countries, higher than those in 5 countries, and not measurably different from those in 11 countries. In science, the average score for U.S. 15-year-olds was lower than the score for students in 12 of the 34 OECD countries, higher than the scores in 9 countries, and not measurably different from those in 12 countries.
High School Status Dropout Rates
A higher percentage of 16- to 24-year-olds who did not finish high school were unemployed and earned less than high school graduates when employed in 2009 (Aud, Fox, and KewalRamani 2010). Between 1990 and 2009, the percentage of 16- to 24-year-olds who were high school status dropouts (i.e., those who are not enrolled in high school and who lack a high school credential) decreased from 12 to 8 percent. Although status dropout rates decreased for Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics over this period, gaps by race/ethnicity persist. For example, in 2009, some 18 percent of Hispanic 16- to 24-year-olds were status dropouts, compared with 9 percent of Blacks and 5 percent of Whites in that age group.
College readiness among high school students can be measured by the actual performance of college students and their correlated scores on ACT tests for English, mathematics, reading, and science. For English, 66 percent of students met college readiness benchmarks in 2009–10. Some 52 percent met benchmarks for reading, along with 43 percent for mathematics and 29 percent for science.
Young adults who enroll in college immediately after high school tend to have higher completion rates than those who do not (Bozick and DeLuca 2005). The percentage of high school completers ages 16 to 24 who enrolled in college immediately after high school increased for both sexes between 1980 and 2009. For example, 66 percent of male and 74 percent of female high school completers enrolled in college directly after high school in 2009, compared with 47 percent of male and 52 percent of female high school completers in 1980. Total undergraduate enrollment of all ages in degree-granting institutions also increased between 1980 and 2009, from 10.5 to 17.6 million students, with enrollment increasing for each racial/ethnic group as well. While female students comprised more than half of total enrollment within each racial/ethnic group, the largest difference by sex was found among Black students: in 2009, Black females represented 64 percent of total Black enrollment in undergraduate institutions, compared with 57 percent of female undergraduates overall.
The percentage of young adults ages 18 to 24 who have completed different levels of education has changed over time. About 81 percent of young adults had obtained at least a high school diploma or equivalency certification in 2009. From 1980 to 2009, the proportion of young adults whose highest level of education was high school completion decreased from 46 to 29 percent. Conversely, the proportion of young adults who had completed some college increased from 25 to 36 percent.