Research in Higher Education

, Volume 55, Issue 2, pp 143-165

First online:

Preparing Students for College and Careers: The Causal Role of Algebra II

  • Matthew N. GaertnerAffiliated withCenter for College & Career Success, Pearson Email author 
  • , Jeongeun KimAffiliated withUniversity of Michigan
  • , Stephen L. DesJardinsAffiliated withUniversity of Michigan
  • , Katie Larsen McClartyAffiliated withCenter for College & Career Success, Pearson

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In educational research and policy circles, college and career readiness is generating great interest. States are adopting various policy initiatives, such as rigorous curricular requirements, to increase students’ preparedness for life after high school. Implicit in many of these initiatives is the idea that college readiness and career readiness are essentially the same thing. This assumption has persisted, largely untested. Our paper explores this assumption in greater depth. Using two national datasets and an instrumental variables approach to mitigate selection bias, we evaluated the effects of completing Algebra II in high school on subsequent college and career outcomes (i.e., persistence and graduation as well as wages and career advancement). Results suggest Algebra II matters more for college outcomes than career outcomes and more for students completing Algebra II in the early 1990s than in the mid-2000s. Study limitations are discussed along with directions for future research, such as evaluating the opportunity cost associated with taking Algebra II for students seeking careers upon high school completion.


High school mathematics High school course-taking Algebra II College readiness Career readiness Instrumental variable