Raising the Bar for College Admission: North Carolina's Increase in Minimum Math Course Requirements

Charles T. Clotfelter, Steven W. Hemelt, Helen Ladd

NBER Working Paper No. 21926
Issued in January 2016
NBER Program(s):   ED

We explore the effects of a statewide policy change that increased the number of high school math courses required for admission to any of North Carolina’s 15 public four-year institutions. Using administrative data on cohorts of 8th grade students from 1999 to 2006, we document and exploit variation by district over time in the math course-taking environment encountered by students. Within an instrumental variables setup, we examine effects of the policy change on students grouped into deciles defined by their 8th grade math test scores. First, we find that students took more math courses in high school following the state’s announcement, with relatively larger increases in the middle and bottom deciles of students. Second, we conclude that increased math course-taking in high school led to increases in college enrollment rates that were not uniform across the 15 branch campuses. In particular, we observe the largest increases in the deciles of student achievement from which universities were already drawing the bulk of their enrollees. Finally, for upper-middle decile students, we find limited and noisy evidence that increased math course-taking in high school boosts post-enrollment college performance as measured by a student’s GPA or the likelihood of majoring in a STEM field.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21926

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