Gateways to College: Algebra and Geometry

WHAT courses should high schoolers take to ensure success later? Geometry and its prerequisite course of algebra, a recent study suggests. Regardless of race or income, students who complete these higher-level math courses are most likely to enroll and graduate from college, the study found.

``Changing the Odds: Factors Increasing Access to College'' is a report by Sol H. Pelavin and Michael Kane of Pelavin Associates Inc., an independent research company in Washington. The study was produced by the College Board in New York.

``There is a positive relationship between many subjects and college-going,'' Mr. Pelavin says. ``But the mathematics courses eliminated racial differences more than any other courses.''

In announcing the report, Donald M. Stewart, president of the College Board, said: ``These findings justify serious consideration of a national policy to ensure that all students take algebra and geometry.''

Minority and low-income students enroll in high school geometry classes at less than half the rate of white and high-income students, the study found. The chance of a Hispanic student obtaining senior status and graduating from college within four years of high school is only 1 in 60 without algebra and geometry, Pelavin says. For black students, the chances are 1 in 40.

Students who mastered algebra and geometry in high school:

Attended college at rates of 83 percent for whites, 80 percent for blacks, and 82 percent for Hispanics.

Graduated from college at rates of 93 percent for whites, 85 percent for blacks, and 95 percent for Hispanics.

The report recommends that all students be encouraged to take algebra and geometry. ``We're really limiting students' options as early as eighth or ninth grade,'' Pelavin says. ``It's not going to matter what kind of programs we put in place later on or how much student aid we put out there. If students aren't academically prepared to go to college when they graduate from high school, we've sealed their fate.''

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