Postsecondary Readiness

School does not stop at the eighth grade. Ultimately, our K–12 system must produce students who are ready to get a postsecondary credential or enter a career at the end of their schooling experience.

To report on the readiness of African-American students for college, we compiled four indicators: graduation rates, American College Testing (ACT) scores, participation and passage rates on Advanced Placement (AP) tests, and postsecondary remediation rates. Taken together, they paint a familiar picture: Far too many African-American students are failing to make it through our education system, and for those who do, far too many are unprepared for college.

Let’s start with graduation rates. As a source, we looked to Education Week’s annual Diplomas Count publication. Nationally, graduation rates have been on the rise in recent years. For all students in the country in the class of 2013, for whom the most recent data are available, the graduation rate was 81%. For African-American students it was 10 points lower, at 71%. Looking state by state, rates for African-American students ranged from 84% on the high end (in Texas) to only 57% on the low end (in Nevada and Oregon).

For those students who graduated, we have three metrics of how well they were prepared for college. The first is ACT scores. The ACT creates a “college-ready” benchmark—scores that their research predicts give students a 75% chance or better of earning a “C” or higher and a 50% chance of earning a “B” or higher in the corresponding entry-level college course in their tested subjects. Nationally, only 12% of African-American students were college-ready in three or more of the four tested subjects in 2015 (English, mathematics, reading, and science).[1] We present the state-by-state breakdown of the percentage of students who scored college-ready on all four tested subjects.

In interpreting this table it is important to keep in mind that the population of students taking the ACT varies from state to state. In some states, all graduating students are required to take the exam. In other states, a large number of college-bound students take the exam, even though it is not required. In several other states, much smaller numbers of students take the test.

Second, we present results from AP tests taken by the class of 2014. AP tests can be an important first step in performing college-level work. In recent years, there has been a concerted effort to increase the number of students taking AP tests and specifically to increase the number of low-income and minority students taking AP exams. To see the fruits of these efforts, we were granted access to data on both exam-taking rates and exam-passing rates (scoring a 3 or higher on AP’s 1–5 scale) by the College Board, the organization that administers the tests. We show the state-by-state percentage of African-American graduates in the class of 2014 who graduated having taken an AP exam and the percentage of African-American graduates in the class of 2014 who graduated having passed an AP exam. It also allows us to assess states on which have the largest gaps between the number of students taking exams and the number of students passing exams.

Nationally, 24.2% of African-American graduates of the class of 2014 left school having taken an AP exam, compared with a national average of 35.7% for all students. Only 7.2% of African-American students successfully passed at least one of those AP exams, only one-third of the national average for all students of 21.6%. States varied widely both in the percentage of students who took exams, ranging from 47.5% of African-American students in Washington, D.C., to only 5.1% of African-American students in North Dakota. Regarding percentages of students passing, Hawaii led the pack with 16% of its African-American students passing, and Mississippi brought up the rear with a paltry 1.2% of African-American students passing, though again, it bears repeating that Hawaii educates a small number of African-American students and Mississippi has the largest number, outside of the District of Columbia.

Fourth, we worked with Complete College America to display their data on college remediation rates for the most recent cohort year available (which varied by state). They provided us with key indicators for the states in which they operate: enrollment in remedial coursework (math, English, or math and English); success in remedial coursework (completed all required remedial coursework for the subjects in which student required remediation); and success in gateway college courses (completed a gateway course in all subjects for which they were enrolled in remedial courses). There are fairly serious limitations to these data, one problem being that Complete College America does not have data for every state and that not all institution types are included in all states. But, to our knowledge, it is the best, most comprehensive, and most comparable set of data available on college remediation rates. Given those, and other limitations noted in the table, certain states and school systems do stand out for remediation enrollment rates for African-American students. In Rhode Island the rate is 73% of African-American students and in Oklahoma it is 72%. Few states or school systems were in the 20% to 30% range—Montana at 29% and the Pennsylvania system of higher education at 28%.

[1] ACT. The Condition of College & Career Readiness. 2015.