About one in three students in the class of 2007 was “college-ready” in reading and math by graduation, according to the National Assessment of Education Progress, writes Mike Petrilli. Eight years later, about one in three had earned a bachelor’s degree. Not surprisingly, college readiness predicts college completion. But it’s not quite that simple.
Chart 1: College preparedness, college matriculation, and college completion
*2005 marked the beginning of a new NAEP assessment framework for math.
Many students think college is the only path to a decent job. In 2015, when 37 percent of 12th graders were college-prepared in reading and/or math, 69 percent enrolled in post-secondary education a few months after graduating from high school. A very high percentage — including those placed in remedial classes — said their goal was a four-year degree.
Students who are the first in their families to go to college, low-income students, Latinos and blacks are less likely to earn a degree. Academic readiness isn’t a complete explanation, writes Petrilli.
“Blacks and Asian-Americans are more likely to earn a degree than their 12th-grade readiness would predict, Latinos are less likely and whites are the same,” he observes.
As this NBER working paper from 2006 explains, “Blacks get more education than do whites of similar cognitive ability.” The authors, Kevin Lang and Michael Manove, posit that because of discrimination in the labor market, “Education is generally a more valuable signal of productivity for blacks than for whites. As a result, blacks invest more heavily in the signal and get more education for a given level of ability.” In other words, because some employers won’t hire blacks without a college degree, they are even more motivated to get a credential than others.
Asian-Americans’ high completion rates probably are due to their culture (and their parents), speculates Petrilli.
The “completion agenda,” which tries to get more disadvantaged students to a degree, could do useful work in getting Hispanics “across the finish line,” writes Petrilli. “As of the class of 2006, one in four Hispanic students who were ready for college didn’t complete a bachelor’s degree.”
Hispanics disproportionately enroll in community colleges, which have low graduation rates.