High School Rigor Matters to Students Who Don’t Attend College, CPE Study Finds

July 23, 2015

Alexandria, Va. (July 23, 2015) -- A rigorous high school program boosts the chances of success for both college goers and students who do not attend college after high school. High school graduates who don’t attend college are more successful later on if they’ve taken high-level math courses and focused vocational training in high school.

The results of the second study of a series, The Path Least Taken II: Preparing Non-college Goers for Success, reinforce the essential role of high school preparation in students’ success regardless of the paths they chose after graduation. The study by the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) Center for Public Education (CPE) looks at the credentials and high school experiences of non-college going graduates to identify the factors that lead to success after school in both work and life.

“Factors contributing to a student’s readiness for college, career, and future success shouldn’t be viewed as mutually exclusive,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, NSBA’s executive director. “Rigorous academic preparation is important for students who attend four-year colleges and universities, and those who don’t.”

 Drawing on data from the U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics’ (NCES’s) Education Longitudinal Study (ELS:2002), CPE’s report examines the 12 percent of high school graduates who had not enrolled in a two- or four-year college by age 26.

“While the average college goer is more likely to get a good job and take part in the community than a high school graduate with no college, this report provides significant evidence that non-college goers can be just as or even more successful than their college-going classmates if they are well prepared,” says CPE’s Jim Hull, the author of the study.

Non-college goers did much better in the labor market if they had completed high-level math and science course; earned higher grades; completed multiple vocational courses focusing on a specific labor market area, and obtained a professional certification or license.

Part one of the study, The Path Least Taken: A Quest to Learn More About High School Graduates Who Don’t Go on to College, can be found at

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The Center for Public Education (CPE) ( is a national resource for credible and practical information about public education and its importance to the well-being of our nation. CPE provides up-to-date research, data, and analysis on current education issues and explores ways to improve student achievement and engage public support for public schools. CPE is an initiative of the National School Boards Association.

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is the leading advocate for public education and supports equity and excellence in public education through school board leadership. NSBA represents state school boards associations and their more than 90,000 local school board members throughout the U.S. Learn more at

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