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Explaining Gaps in Readiness for College-Level Math: The Role of High School Courses

Abstract

Despite increased requirements for high school graduation, almost one-third of the nation's college freshmen are unprepared for college-level math. The need for remediation is particularly high among students who are low income, Hispanic, and black. Female students are also less likely than males to be ready for college-level math. This article estimates how much of these gaps are determined by the courses that students take while in high school. Using data on students in Florida public postsecondary institutions, we find that differences among college-going students in the highest math course taken explain 28-35 percent of black, Hispanic, and poverty gaps in readiness and over three-quarters of the Asian advantage. Courses fail to explain gender gaps in readiness. Low-income, black, and Asian students also receive lower returns to math courses, suggesting differential educational quality. This analysis is valuable to policy makers and educators seeking to reduce disparities in college readiness.

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