High School Math Courses Predict Whether Students Go To College, Study Finds

Jun 27, 2016

When students graduate high school, people typically say they have the whole world ahead of them. But some of their future can be predicted just by looking at their high school transcript. New data show that if students in Central Texas take advanced math courses, they have a higher chance of graduating college.


Texas high school students have to take three math courses to graduate, but Algebra II isn’t one of them. The state board of education dropped the Algebra II requirement in 2014, after the legislature passed new high school graduation requirements in 2013. 

Former State Rep. Jimmy Don Aycock chaired the House Public Education Committee until his retirement last year. He argues the course was a barrier to high school graduation:  Students who weren’t college bound weren’t doing well in Algebra II, and many students didn’t want to take it.

“We’ve always known that kids that take more math also turns out to be better college students. That’s self-evident," Aycock says. "The question is, what you do about those large number of kids that are not bound for a four-year college degree? Do you tell them you can’t have a high school degree either?”

But in Central Texas education circles, college is still the focus.

The Austin Chamber of Commerce wants 70 percent of regional high school graduates to directly enroll in college. It’s a pledge signed by nearly all Central Texas school superintendents last year. And data from E3 Alliance, a local education non-profit, shows that when students take math classes more advanced than Algebra II — Pre-Calculus or Advanced Placement Calculus — the chances of them enrolling in college increases at least 20 percentage points. Christine Bailey is with E3 Alliance.

“That is our commitment for Central Texas, that 70 percent of our students will enroll direct to college. Algebra II is not enough," Bailey says. "We need students to take four years of math. We need students to get to the advanced coursework.”

Despite the changes at the state level, Austin ISD does require students to take four years of math.