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


  • Mark C. Long

    () (Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs, University of Washington)

  • Patrice Iatarola

    () (Department of Educational Leadership and Policy, Florida State University)

  • Dylan Conger

    () (Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration, George Washington University)


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. © 2009 American Education Finance Association

Suggested Citation

  • Mark C. Long & Patrice Iatarola & Dylan Conger, 2009. "Explaining Gaps in Readiness for College-Level Math: The Role of High School Courses," Education Finance and Policy, MIT Press, vol. 4(1), pages 1-33, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:tpr:edfpol:v:4:y:2009:i:1:p:1-33

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    Cited by:

    1. Kalena E. Cortes & Joshua S. Goodman & Takako Nomi, 2015. "Intensive Math Instruction and Educational Attainment: Long-Run Impacts of Double-Dose Algebra," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 50(1), pages 108-158.
    2. Black, Sandra E. & Cortes, Kalena E. & Lincove, Jane Arnold, 2014. "Efficacy vs. Equity: What Happens When States Tinker with College Admissions in a Race-Blind Era?," IZA Discussion Papers 8733, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Charles T. Clotfelter & Steven W. Hemelt & Helen Ladd, 2016. "Raising the Bar for College Admission: North Carolina’s Increase in Minimum Math Course Requirements," NBER Working Papers 21926, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. repec:hrv:hksfac:34298862 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Dylan Conger & Mark C. Long & Patrice Iatarola, 2009. "Explaining race, poverty, and gender disparities in advanced course-taking," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 28(4), pages 555-576.

    More about this item


    college-level math; high school math; Florida;

    JEL classification:

    • I20 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - General
    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education
    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions


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