State Policies for High School Graduation and Postsecondary Readiness


SREB Regional Overview

Since SREB first catalogued policies in SREB states related to high school completion and postsecondary admission, the region has seen changes to many of the policies. States have developed and reformed their assessment and accountability systems and made strides aligning high school graduation requirements with college admission requirements. Many have much more to offer in college and career planning than they did a dozen years ago. Highlights of recent changes include the following examples, all of which can be traced in the last several editions of HSCC. (Updated January, 2018)

  1. Many SREB states offer students multiple diploma paths to high school graduation—some up to four paths—with varying course requirements. While each state has a standard diploma path, other paths allow students to graduate with a college or career technical focus or to graduate in three years, instead of the traditional four years. In the states with single diploma tracks, students are provided with concentration or endorsement options that allow to them to choose required or elective courses with a college or career technical focus.
  2. Depending on the state, students must complete from 21 to 24 units to earn a standard high school diploma. All SREB states require students to complete four English courses.
  3. The majority of SREB states require four math courses to earn a standard high school diploma. Five states require students to complete a minimum of three math courses to attain a standard high school diploma.
  4. Math course requirements vary by state. However, every state requires students to complete an Algebra I course and a geometry course or a course equivalent.
  5. Most SREB states require that students take three science courses to earn a standard diploma, as well as require that at least one of the required science courses be lab-based or that lab-based experiences are incorporated into the courses. Four SREB states require their students to complete four science courses to receive a standard diploma.
  6. Most SREB states use end-of-course tests to measure student academic progress across a variety of courses and subjects. Many of these states require that the exams count as some percentage of the final grade for the course.
  7. Most SREB states link eligibility for graduation to passing certain courses and exams. Virginia, for example, requires that students pursuing a Standard Diploma must pass six end-of-course exams; students pursuing the Advanced Diploma must pass nine.
  8. Every state now incorporates college and career measures into its accountability system. State measures include, for example, the use of assessment results in various subjects, participation in accelerated learning opportunities, and industry certification.
  9. In 2017, eight SREB states required that all high school juniors take the ACT as a measure of college and career readiness, while one state requires all juniors to take the SAT.
  10. While every state requires middle school and high school students to participate in academic and career planning activities, not every state designates specific activities or timelines. Many states, however, have additional requirements for at-risk students.
  11. Every SREB state offers accelerated learning opportunities that allow high school students to earn college or career technical credits through a variety of programs such as dual enrollment, Advanced Placement, Early College and competency-based credit.
  12. All SREB states have developed postsecondary to high school feedback reports, through which the state notifies districts and schools about their graduates’ postsecondary enrollment performance.
  13. While some SREB states have linked high school graduation requirements to college admission requirements, other states allow institutions to set admission requirements independently.
  14. Most SREB states require that 11th grade assessments be used for postsecondary placement. Nine of these states exempt students who pass the assessments from postsecondary institutional placement testing.
  15. Most SREB states provide some combination of need-based and merit aid. All 16 SREB states have need-based scholarship programs to increase educational access for students from low- and middle-income families.
  16. Eight SREB states use state lottery funding to support merit-based aid programs. One uses lottery funds to support need-based aid programs.
  17. Nearly all SREB states have established minimum high school grade point averages between 2.5 and 3.0 that students must meet to be eligible for state need- and merit-based financial aid.
  18. Twelve SREB states require that students receiving state financial aid maintain a minimum grade point average to continue receiving aid. The remaining four require that students continue “making satisfactory academic progress” according to the institution they attend.
  19. In addition to minimum grade point average requirements that may apply, thirteen SREB states also tie continuing eligibility for state financial aid to specific credit hour requirements, either by semester, academic year or a specified evaluation period.
  20. Eleven SREB states require students to complete a specific number of credit hours per semester or year to retain financial aid. One SREB state stipulates that students must complete 75 percent of credits attempted.

College and Career Readiness Definitions

Most SREB states define college and career readiness. Some states have separate definitions for each. While states continue to focus on postsecondary readiness for their students, SREB encourages state development of separate and thorough definitions for both college readiness and career readiness to help guide appropriate goals and policies. (Updated August, 2017)


College and Career Planning in K-12

To help get students ready for college or a career by the end of high school, many SREB states have implemented college and career planning measures in earlier grades. These include activities such as student success or graduation planning; meeting with advisors, tutors and mentors, and programs aimed at supporting subgroups who traditionally struggle to succeed in high school. (Updated December, 2017)


High School Graduation Requirements

State requirements for a standard high school diploma vary. These include specific courses students must complete, pathway options for different types of diplomas (where applicable), credit requirements and high school assessments. (Updated August, 2017)


Accelerated Learning Options in High School

Accelerated learning options often provide students the opportunity to earn postsecondary credit while in high school, decreasing their costs and time in pursuits after they graduate. Options include dual enrollment and dual credit courses, early college, Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses and credit by exam. (Updated August, 2017)


Postsecondary Admissions Requirements

Admission policies vary by individual institutions, by institution type and statewide. These include high school course-taking requirements, high school GPA and standardized exam score submissions. In most cases, states set minimum requirements while institutions may set additional standards for acceptance. (Updated August, 2017)


Postsecondary Placement Policies

Placement policies are set by individual institutions, by institution type and at the state-level. Placement policies determine whether a student can be placed into college credit-bearing courses or needs to be remediated. (Updated November, 2017)


State Financial Aid for Undergraduates

States provide different types and amounts of aid to undergraduate students for postsecondary education. Financial aid typically falls under three categories – merit-based, need-based and non-grant-based. Merit aid is awarded to high performing students. Need-based aid is usually reserved for low-income students and non-grant aid includes loan and work study programs. Most SREB states allocate more funding to merit-based aid. (Updated January, 2018)


Postsecondary Feedback to High Schools

Statewide policies govern postsecondary feedback reports to high schools. These contain information such as college enrollment rates and performance of recent graduates. These reports help to influence K-12 education policies and inform schools on whether they are adequately preparing graduates for postsecondary endeavors. (Updated October, 2017)