The Increasing Role of Student Effort in Postsecondary Attainment

Eric Grodsky, University of Minnesota
Catherine Riegle-Crumb, University of Texas at Austin
Barbara King, University of Texas at Austin

To what extent do different aspects of merit drive postsecondary attainment? Admission to competitive colleges is largely driven by test scores, high school grades and course taking. We argue that these measures tap overlapping dimensions of merit. Test scores reflect a combination of intelligence and academic achievement while grades reflect these qualities in combination with the ability to conform to teacher social and behavioral expectations. Advanced course taking reflects a combination of academic achievement, motivation, understanding of the importance of taking demanding courses and the opportunity to do so. Analyzing data from three nationally representative cohorts of high school graduates, we find that high school grades and courses have increased in importance relative to test scores over time in structuring transitions into and through higher education. Rather than being dependent on test scores, postsecondary outcomes are increasingly distributed based more on effort than on ability.

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Presented in Session 144: Higher Education