Physics enrollment in Florida’s public high schools continues to decline; now down 12% in four years

Physics course enrollments in Florida’s public high schools fell again in the Fall of 2018, reaching a level 12.2% lower than in the Fall of 2014, according to data released by the Florida Department of Education this week.

The number of Fall 2018 physics course enrollments, 42,163, was 5,871 lower than the level in fall 2014 (48,034) and even a steep drop from the level of 44,057 only a year before in the fall of 2017.

The present course enrollment numbers do not include dual enrollment. In the 2017-18 academic year, there were only 543 physics dual enrollments at Florida College System institutions.

The American Society for Engineering Education recommends that high school students who might major in engineering in college take physics. College majors in physical science fields like chemistry and meteorology are required to take physics, as are students in the life and health sciences. Many bachelor’s degree programs in computer science also require physics.

Thus, the physics enrollment decline demonstrates that the readiness of Florida public high school students for college majors in STEM fields is continuing to deteriorate.

The decline is concentrated in the non-Honors Physics 1 course, for which enrollment has declined by 3,715 – or 33.2% – since Fall 2014.

Enrollment in Honors Physics 1 has declined by 9.8% since Fall 2014.

Advanced Placement Physics 1, which was designed to be a first high school physics course and which some expected to take a large share of the students who might otherwise have taken Honors Physics 1, enrolled only 7,306 students in the Fall of 2018, down 5.6% from its inauguration in the Fall of 2014. The low passing rate for the AP Physics 1 exam, which has hovered near 40%, may be making the course less attractive for students and their parents.

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