Back in November 2014, I explored the implications (and refuted a misinterpretation) of the data presented in the 2014 SAT Report on College & Career Readiness. The newly released ACT report, The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2014, deserves a similar analysis.
This report provides a series of graphical pictures highlighting the college and career readiness of the ACT-tested high school class of 2014, based on ACT College Readiness Benchmarks and scores. The portion of the report most people will gravitate towards is the ACT College Readiness Benchmark Attainment for Top Planned College Majors: 2014 Graduates:
The use of College Readiness Benchmarks rather than ACT scaled scores obscures the implications of this data. Let’s clear things up by pegging the benchmarks to scores:
The ACT College Readiness Benchmarks for English, Reading, Mathematics, and Science are the minimum section scores that ACT, Inc. associates with a 50% chance of earning a B or better and approximately a 75% chance of earning a C or better in the corresponding college course or courses.
- The ACT Benchmark for English is a scale score of 18, which is 39th percentile.
- The ACT Benchmark for Math is a scale score of 22, which is 61st percentile.
- The ACT Benchmark for Reading is a scale score of 22, which is 61st percentile.
- The ACT Benchmark for Science is a scale score of 23, which is 70th percentile.
- While higher numbers of students met benchmarks for individual subjects, only 26% of ACT takers in the class of 2014 met the Readiness Benchmarks for all four subjects.
Now the report makes a little more sense.
1. The intended major for the group with the highest average percentage of meeting all four Readiness Benchmarks is Chemical Engineering at 63%. Following close behind are Aerospace/Aeronautical Engineering (54%), Biochemistry and Biophysics (52%), and General Engineering (50%).
2. The intended major for the group with the lowest average percentage of meeting all four Readiness Benchmarks is Medical Assisting at 8%, followed by Criminology (13%), Registered Nursing (14%), and Athletic Training (16%).
3. The disparity in Readiness Benchmark accomplishment between the 264,009 students who declared Undecided and the 126,748 classified as No Major Indicated seems significant: 31% vs. 9%. (Interestingly, only 96,804 respondents in the College Board 2014 report declared themselves as Undecided.)
4. This report states that about 80% of recent ACT-tested high school graduates nationwide selected a specific planned major. In this group, the most popular prospective majors for the H.S. graduating class of 2014 were, in order, Registered Nursing (80,120), Medicine/Pre-Med (67,679), Business (50,777), and Mechanical Engineering (34,322). These findings overlap substantially with the College Board 2014 SAT Report on College & Career Readiness, but the numbers of students declaring each major are much smaller in the ACT report.
5. In the interest of highlighting the difference between intended major and achieved major, consider the data regarding the most popular majors for postsecondary students issued by U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences. Of the 1,716,000 Bachelor’s degrees conferred in 2010–11, the greatest numbers were conferred in Business (365,000), Social Sciences and History (177,000), Health Professions and Related Clinical Sciences (143,000), Education (104,000), and Psychology (101,000). Apparently, lots of students learn to love the social sciences once they get to college!
In summary, this report delivers lots of interesting points to chew on regarding the intended majors and general college readiness of different groups of students in the graduating class of 2014. However, the findings diverge in so many ways from the similar College Board report that the aggregate produces less insight into intended major trends than this much data should provide. What is shocking, besides the obvious attrition in many hard science majors, is how few students meet all four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks.
What do you take away from this report?