In my last post, I mentioned a couple of reports showing huge disparities in the courses offered by high schools, with especially serious problems in access to advanced math, chemistry, and physics. I think such inequities are an embarrassment to the very idea of America. But I’ve met people who disagree. They see alternative courses in things like forensics and general science to be a practical means of engaging kids who aren’t going to college in the sciences.

I could argue endlessly about who might go to college if such inequities did not exist, but let’s skip that. Let’s just focus on this idea of different courses for those who are not going. Do they benefit from advanced math and science courses—traditional, rigorous, college-prep courses? Yes.

Shutterstock Image
Teach broad knowledge and test what’s been taught. Is that really too much to ask? (Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)

They benefit not only from the inherent value of better understanding their universe, but in wages and job satisfaction, as a new report from the National School Boards Association shows. The report defines non-college goers as those who had not enrolled in college (two or four year) by age 26. These days, that’s just 12% of high school graduates. The results were striking:

What students do in high school is as important for non-college goers as it is for college goers. For on-time graduates who did not go to college, we found that they did much better in the labor market if they had completed high-level math and science courses; earned higher grades; completed multiple vocational courses focusing on a specific labor market area (occupational concentration); and obtained a professional certification or license. While each of these factors had a positive effect most of the time, they were especially powerful in combination. Compared to their peers who lacked any of these characteristics, the “high credentialed” non-college goers were:

• More likely to have a full-time job.
• Less likely to be unemployed.
• Less likely to be unemployed for more than six months.
• More likely to work for an employer that offers medical insurance.
• More likely to have a retirement fund.
• More likely to supervise other employees.
• Less likely to receive public assistance.

At 26, these high-credentialed non-college goers were also doing well compared with their college-going peers (though other data on college completers still show that earning a college degree is the best route—the problem is that so many college goers get trapped in remedial courses and never graduate). Here are a few of the highlights:

26-year-olds who reported they…

No college; low credentials

No college; high credentials

College goers

Had a full-time job (at least 35 hrs/wk)




Hourly wage at most recent job




Current employer offers medical insurance




Had a retirement plan in 2012




Organizations like Achieve have long claimed that college and career both require the same rigorous, academic K–12 education. While some dispute the idea, evidence continues to mount. Equalizing opportunity to learn—to acquire academic knowledge—is morally, economically, and civically the right thing to do.


5 comments on “Math and Science Increase Wages–Even Without College”

  1. 1
    Barry Garelick on July 31, 2015

    Good points. Unfortunately, Common Core does little to put students on the track for advanced math courses–even algebra II is watered down.

  2. 2
    ewaldoh on August 2, 2015

    Education, leading to skills, is the prime factor in wages and benefits … not degrees. The 4-8 additional years of working plus the cost of those years in school is the unmentioned gain.
    It’s an economic mistake to believe that having the training for a job will open a position for you. Sports know that every kid that plays football in HS will not get a college spot. Not every star in college will be drafted. Not every drafted player will be around for a second year.

  3. 3
    Lynne Hansen on September 15, 2015

    Education is the great equalizer. We should educate and challenge each student academically to his or her highest ability level. However, I am going to anger some people, but I do not feel every student should go to college. High schools should bring back more trade courses. Some students are better hands-on then in a typical classroom. A person with a trade that is reliable, and trustworthy can be his or her own boss and do quite well financially. There is a lot of pride and personal satisfaction doing a great job and being your own boss.

  4. 4
    Beth on November 12, 2015

    I agree that not every student is cut out for college. Trade courses are so important for the students who are not on the college track. Unfortunately, so many high school cut those classes to make room for more advanced courses. I am glad that my district now has a push for the vocational arts. We are working with local industries and colleges to equip students will the skill that they need to be successful after high school.
    I also agree that some college students do get stuck in remedial college courses and never graduate. What happens to those people? We need to ensure that we are offering rigorous and appropriate classes to our students.

  5. 5
    TB004 on July 18, 2018

    I think that all students should learn and understand challenging curriculum. However, we must not forget that academic skills are no more important for high school students to learn and understand than social skills. What your figures don’t measure are the people skills that they possessed when they graduated high school. In fact, some of the most successful entrepreneurs never graduated from college. These people mastered and understood the important life skills of communication, collaboration, and leadership. In many large corporations, middle management positions are usually given to the people who know how to communicate, collaborate, and lead other people. In small businesses the entrepreneur has to have these same skills to survive.

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