Study Finds High School Grades are a Strong Predictor of College Readiness for Recent Graduates

February 2017

A study by REL Northwest has found that high school GPA was better than college entrance exam scores at predicting college course grades for recent Alaska high school graduates from both urban and rural areas.

The study focused on nearly 18,000 first-time University of Alaska students who enrolled between fall 2008 and spring 2012, and it examined how well high school GPA predicted readiness for college by timing of college entry and whether students came from rural or urban hometowns.

“A common concern around using high school GPA for placement is it might not be comparable across high schools,” said lead researcher Michelle Hodara. “So, we looked at how its predictive power might vary based on whether high school graduates came from rural or urban hometowns in Alaska. While these students attended very different high schools with potentially different rigor, high school GPA remained a strong predictor of college success.”

The study also found that high school GPA was more predictive of college course grades for students who directly entered college from high school compared with those who delayed entry.

The findings of the study may have impacts in Alaska and beyond. Colleges typically use standardized exam scores to place students in developmental education. However, research suggests this practice may result misplacing students who could have succeeded in college-level coursework. To address the misplacement of students in developmental education, community colleges are redesigning the way they assess incoming students’ college readiness. Specifically, many are using multiple measures to assign students to the highest level of coursework in which they are likely to succeed.

”Developmental education is a huge barrier to completion for many college students,” Hodara said. “Using high school GPA in the placement process is an opportunity to potentially increase access to college-level coursework to students who are actually prepared to do well in those courses.”

This study builds on a previous REL Northwest study that found high school GPA was a stronger predictor of college academic performance than scores on standardized college entrance exams among first-time students at the University of Alaska.

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