The tough message about taking high school chemistry, physics, precalculus and calculus: Some statistics

Why should STEM advocates take responsibility for the tough message that college-bound students should take chemistry, physics, precalculus and calculus in high school?

The results of a 2007 study of Florida’s high school graduating class of 1999 by researchers at the University of South Florida (which was cited in a recent compilation by the Institute for Education Sciences) provide plenty of reasons why.  The figures below – taken from a discussion of the USF results in this article from The Physics Teacher – show bachelor’s degree attainment rates sorted by highest level math course taken (first figure) and highest level science course taken (second figure).  In each figure, the attainment rates are shown for all fields (top panels) and STEM fields (bottom panels).

The bottom line?  Students who complete calculus in high school are almost seven times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field than those whose top math course is Algebra 2.  And a student who completes physics is twice as likely to complete a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field than one who takes only chemistry; taking a second course in either subject increases the likelihood of earning a STEM degree even more.

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