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The Effect of High School Curriculum on College Completion

Primary Investigator(s): Brian Mccall, Stephen Desjardins

Funding Agency: Spencer Foundation

Amount: $208,425

Period: 6/1/2010 - 6/1/2011

State policymakers across the nation are adopting a college-preparatory curriculum for all students based on evidence that students who take rigorous high school coursework enroll in and graduate from college in higher numbers than students who do not (Achieve, 2009). However, it is unclear whether these differences in educational attainment are caused by differences in high school curriculum, or whether students who are more likely to be successful in college are the same students who take rigorous high school courses. We review the relevant empirical literature and find that the extant research cited to promote mandatory college-preparatory policies may be flawed because it often fails to adequately control for non-random selection into different curricular pathways and typically employs cross-sectional techniques to study the longitudinal processes of high school completion, college access, and college completion.