High-school physics enrollment hits record high

May 10, 2007
More U.S. high-school students are taking physics than ever before, and the number of physics bachelor's degree recipients in the nation has risen 31% since 2000, according to new data from the American Institute of Physics.

"Good physics education is the backbone of a first-class workforce in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics," says Toufiq Hakim, the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT)'s Executive Director. "The future of U.S. economic competitiveness hinges on strong science education in our country."

Enrollment in high-school physics classes is up and likely to continue increasing. The data show more than 30% of high-school seniors have taken physics classes, more than ever before. This percentage has been rising steadily since the mid-1980s.

Girls and minorities are also enrolling in high-school physics classes at higher rates. Female students, who made up only 39% of high-school physics students in 1987, now represent 47%. The percentages of African Americans and Latinos taking high-school physics classes have more than doubled since 1990, moving from 10% of African Americans and 10% of Latinos to 23% and 24%, respectively.

Researchers attribute these surges to the wider variety of physics classes now available to students. In the past students often only had a choice of whether or not to take the single type of physics class that was offered. A higher percentage of students than ever before now take conceptual, or noncomputational, physics classes, as well as honors and advanced placement physics classes. In addition, a physics class on one's high-school transcript might look good to students interested in colleges seeking applicants who have taken challenging classes.

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