Mathematics Coursetaking Pathway to College STEM for Washington State High School Students

September, 2019

This study describes 9th graders’ coursetaking pathways in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from high school to Washington public higher education, from 2013 to 2017. Focusing on the association between 4-year mathematics coursetaking sequences in high school and the first year college STEM course outcome, major findings include:

  • The initial mathematics course taken in 9th grade is a momentum factor driving how far a student progresses, in terms of the final course level in high school and STEM credits earned and GPA in the first year of college.
    • Students who took mathematics courses lower than algebra I in 9th grade were less likely to proceed to a standard or advanced mathematics level by the end of high school; whereas, those who started higher than algebra I were more likely to advance to a higher course level.
    • Remaining in a high mathematics course pathway through the high school years is crucial for earning credits and a high GPA from college-level STEM courses.
  • Heterogeneity in STEM educational outcomes by students’ demographics and family income status is present, particularly among those going through higher mathematics pathways.
    • Females outperformed males in earning college-level STEM credit and GPA, and the gender difference are profound among those experiencing higher mathematics pathways.
    • Asians and Whites are more likely to take college STEM credits and achieve a higher GPA, compared to the other racial/ethnic groups. The racial/ethnic differential is significant among only those in high mathematics pathways.
    • Students from higher family income level were more likely to earn college STEM credits in 4-year institutions. There is not much difference in STEM GPA by family income level.