The Annenberg Institute at Brown University offers this national working paper series to provide open access to high-quality papers from multiple disciplines and from multiple universities and research organizations on a wide variety of topics related to education. EdWorkingPapers focuses particularly on research with strong implications for education policy. EdWorkingPapers circulates papers prior to publication for comment and discussion; these papers have not gone through a peer review processes. Contributors can update papers to provide readers with the most up-to-date findings.
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This paper investigates patterns of racial/ethnic and gender gaps in post-secondary degree attainment trajectories by the levels of students’ pre-college academic preparation. We follow four cohorts of Missouri public high school freshmen for five years beyond on-time graduation among White, Black, and Hispanic male and female students. A composite measure of pre-college academic preparation is constructed based on test scores, GPA, attendance, and advanced course enrollment, which we label Academic Index (AI) and split students into AI Quintiles for analysis. We find large racial/ethnic gaps in AI, with the largest difference for Black male students, who are heavily concentrated in the lowest quintile. Gender gaps in academic readiness widen during high school. College enrollment is higher for Black male and female students near the average AI and below, but this advantage completely disappears for degree completion. Hispanic-White gaps emerge earlier than that of Black-White gaps as Hispanic students are less likely to graduate from high school and attend college. An important finding is that top-performing Black and Hispanic male students have much lower rates of degree completion than other top-performing students. Also, Black-White gaps are much wider in any degree attainment than in bachelor’s degree attainment, suggesting lower likelihood of completing a sub-bachelor degree among Black students. After controlling for academic preparation and the FRL status, bachelor’s degree attainment among Black and Hispanic female students are similar to, or higher than, that of White female students.