Study: Computer science students much more likely to enroll in college

A new study in schools that teach computer science in partnership with Code.org shows that students who take AP CS Principles are more likely to go to college than those who do not.

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Note: As of September 2020, this post contains outdated language or graphics referencing “underrepresented minorities.” To see our current language policy around race, ethnicity, and gender, see this support article.

In early findings from a 4-year longitudinal study conducted by West Coast Analytics, researchers found that in two large US school districts, high school students who took AP CS Principles were 12% more likely to enroll in college versus similarly-situated students who do not take the class.

You can read the full study on the West Coast Analytics site here.

This is big news for CS Principles students! It also follows years of research and multiple other studies that have shown computer science students outperform those who do not study the subject in school, college, and the workplace.

In comparing student outcomes, the research accounts for a few major factors that are generally predictive of college enrollment: race, gender, socioeconomic status, and notably, GPA. Matching students across these factors, the research isolates the effect of taking AP CS Principles versus not taking it, and found that students who took the course were more likely to enroll in college.

The study looks at the trajectory of nearly 60,000 students in two large U.S. school districts over a two-year period, beginning when the College Board began offering the AP CS Principles exam in 2017. The study seeks to determine the long-term impact on the academic career of students who take computer science classes in high school. The final results should show if there are any measurable effects of taking computer science on college enrollment, persistence, graduation rates and college major.

With this data, we are confident saying that AP CS Principles has a strong, measurable positive effect on students going on to pursue higher education. This is particularly key for administrators, superintendents, and CTE directors because it shows implementing AP CS Principles in schools increases the likelihood of more students going to college!

What is CS Principles?

CS Principles differs from traditional programming courses by focusing on computing concepts through activities and collaborative projects. The course is designed to broaden participation in computer science and engage students of all skill levels. As a result, students in CS Principles courses also tend to have more diverse backgrounds than students in other types of CS courses. For the 2019–2020 school, 35% of students in Code.org’s CS Principles courses are female and 42% are minority students.

Code.org introduced a CS Principles course in 2015–16. The course is mapped to the AP Computer Science Principles Curriculum Framework and intends to prepare students to successfully complete the AP CS Principles exam and Performance Tasks. The class can be taught as an AP or non-AP class.

We encourage teachers to apply to Code.org Professional Learning workshops so they can be fully prepared to teach our CS Principles course.

Research shows a school’s participation in the Code.org’s Professional Learning program causes an estimated five-fold increase in the number of students that take, and earn qualifying scores on the AP Computer Science Principles exam compared to similarly-situated schools where teachers do not complete Code.org’s Professional Learning.

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Beyond just CS Principles, the researchers found that offering any type of AP CS class had a positive impact on students going to college. Students in both districts who took either AP CS Principles or AP CS A were 17% more likely to pursue a college degree.

This landmark study reinforces what we at Code.org already believe: that studying computer science can set students up for success, no matter what subject they choose to study or career path they pursue. We are proud to support the work of our CS Principles and students, and we are excited about these promising results. Together, we can bring every student, in every school, the life changing opportunity to study computer science.

-Hadi Partovi, Code.org

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Code.org® is dedicated to expanding access to computer science increasing participation by young women and students from other underrepresented groups.

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