Here are some fact and research findings that Montana high school students and their parents need to know:

  • Recently, the National Center for Education Statistics completed a study about high school programs of study and success in college that shows that students who take rigorous courses in high school are more likely to graduate from college in four years.

  • 80 percent of those taking a rigorous high school curriculum remained continuously enrolled in their first college after three years.

  • Students who took a core curriculum or less in high school do not do as well: fewer than 55 percent of them stayed continuously enrolled in their first college of attendance after three years.

  • Among students who took less than a rigorous curriculum in high school and transferred, fewer than 40 percent stayed on track to earn a bachelor's degree in four years.

  • About 75% of today's high school graduates enroll in college, but nearly half of that number have to take at least one remedial course - - one third of those have not taken the core curriculum in high school.

  • 90 per cent of high school freshmen say they expect to complete college; only about two in five take the college preparatory curriculum that equips them to be a success.

  • Research shows that the rigorous high school curriculum best suited to prepare a student for success in college is the same curriculum that will best prepare students for the new economy, even if they do not go on to college.

  • A rigorous high school academic curriculum is a much better predictor of degree attainment than standardized test scores or class rank.

  • Students from low income families or in low income schools are less likely to complete a rigorous high school curriculum.

  • The level of college students' high school curriculum is strongly related to their persistence in college.

  • Completing a rigorous academic curriculum in high school may help students overcome socioeconomic disadvantages such as low family income.

Now for some disturbing information. This Fall's American College Testing (ACT) report on Montana's test takers for 2001 shows the number of test takers who completed the core -- as defined by ACT -- was 3,620. This was a five-year low and represented 56% of 2001 test takers as compared to 60% of core completers in 1997. Nationally, the trend is exactly the opposite - - with 61% of ACT test takers completing the core in 1997 and 63% completing the core in 2001.

As noted above, students who enter college with less than a core curriculum do not perform as well as those with the core background. However, when one compares what ACT regards as a College Preparatory Core with our own requirements, we find that our required curriculum for admission is well below that standard in rigor.  Indeed, research emphasizes that programs such as the Montana Board of Regents' College Preparatory Curriculum are really minimal preparation for college.  Students should strive to take a more rigorous program of study to prepare for any form of post-secondary education (community colleges, colleges of technology, tribal colleges or four-year colleges and universities) and to meet the skills requirements of employers in the information/knowledge economy. 

Clearly, we need an action plan to deal with this situation. The recommended elements of that plan include:

  • To encourage students to take the Regents College Preparatory Curriculum and the even more rigorous pattern of courses, the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education has prepared a flyer for distribution to parents and students: The Montana Board of Regents of Higher Education Recommend College Preparatory Courses. In addition to policy, the flyer sets forth research-based "tips" about how students can improve their college-readiness speech or debate activities; word processing and computer applications; foreign languages; courses in music and the arts.

  • Further, OCHE staff have begun identifying the "best" College Preparatory courses at each Montana high school and preparing individual information sheets on a college-bound curriculum of preferred courses. Over the next few months, staff will develop additional strategies for getting the word out to students and parents about the educational requirements for the new economy and how they can prepare themselves through Montana's K-16 educational system.

  • The Commissioner has invited the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to join in a broad campaign of public information to inform students and their parents about the importance of a rigorous set of high school courses as the path to success in college.

  •  The Board of Regents should initiate a conversation with the Board of Public Education to consider making our core high school curriculum requirements more rigorous.

  • We need additional research to determine what is actually happening in Montana's public schools with regard to the core curriculum.


Finally, it is important to alert the Regents to a built-in disadvantage which many of our Montana high school students experience.  Research has shown that the likelihood that a student will complete any form of college-preparatory curriculum closely correlates with socio-economic and demographic factors.  For example, a student from a low-income family, a student who is first-generation college, or  a student who graduates from a high school with 25 percent or more of the population from low-income backgrounds is much less likely to complete the rigorous curriculum than a more advantaged student.  Such factors are disincentives for students to pursue academic rigor and to plan and prepare for college. It is for these reasons, above all else, that the Office of the Commissioner and the Office of Public Instruction have partnered to provide early intervention services to low-income middle and high school students through the Montana State Gear Up project. Over the next few months, as we learn more about our students and how to motivate and inspire them toward a successful college experience, we will revisit this topic with the Board.