Research by Tyson et al.: One year of high school physics is associated with more than TWICE the percentage of STEM bachelor degrees, compared to college students who stopped at high school chemistry.



A HUGE statewide study in Florida, by Tyson et al finds that ALL college-going students who intend to major in ANY STEM degree need high school physics. 


The study by Tyson asks:

1. What levels of high school science and mathematics course-taking are related to future STEM baccalaureate degree attainment among all degree recipients?


On page 252, they define a STEM degree. I quote:


Degree attainment is classified by the 2-digit Classification of Instructional Programs code that describes the 39 broad areas of baccalaureate degrees earned by 1996–1997 high school graduates. This includes six STEM majors: Engineering, Agricultural Sciences, Chemistry/Physics, Biology, Mathematics, and Computer Science.


[Comment by Jane Jackson at ASU: I am guessing that STEM includes pre-med, since most pre-med students major in a life science or chemistry.  Physical therapy absolutely REQUIRES physics.  Some nursing programs do; others don't.  Athletic trainers (schooled in sports medicine) require physics; this is a fast-growing field!]



On page 254, they list 7 categories of high school science PIPELINES. Among them are

   3.  Secondary Life Sciences—Ecology, Honors and General Biology 2, Advanced Biology

   4.  Chemistry 1 or Physics 1

   5.  Chemistry 1 and Physics 1

   6.  Chemistry 2 or Physics 2


Tyson et al use this categorization, and find that PHYSICS is by far the MOST IMPORTANT high school course, for success in college STEM majors. 

I quote from page 258:


“Table 3 shows that students in the Physics I and Chemistry II or Physics II categories obtained a baccalaureate degree from a Florida university more often than students in the Chemistry I only or lower categories. Over 40% of students in these science groups in high school obtain a baccalaureate degree from a Florida 4-year university within 6 years. Among these students, students who completed Chemistry II or Physics II are more likely to obtain STEM degrees. Students in the Physics I category obtain STEM degrees at 18.7%


Physics course-taking is a primary factor in STEM attainment. Almost 3/4 of baccalaureate degree recipients (1,693, 72.8%) took Physics I. This suggest some advantage over students who took Chemistry, even though 1,417 (61.0%) of students who took Chemistry completed a STEM bachelor’s degree. Still, only 8.8% of students who took Chemistry I, but not Physics I completed a STEM bachelor’s degree. ...


Logistic regression analyses shows that students in the highest levels (Physics I and Chemistry II or Physics II) are significantly more likely than students in the Chemistry I only group to obtain a baccalaureate degree in a STEM major. This finding provides more evidence that students who took Physics but not Chemistry in the 11th and 12th grade probably took Chemistry in the 9th or 10th grade. This finding may also suggest that Physics I, Physics I with Honors, AP Physics B, or AP Physics C are higher level courses than comparable Chemistry I courses ...


Table 3 regression also shows that students who stop at Life Sciences are significantly less likely than students in the Chemistry I category to complete a STEM degree. This provides more support for Burkam and Lee’s (2003) method of placing Biology courses at a lower level than Chemistry and Physics. Biology course-taking in the 11th or 12th grade does not provide a strong route toward STEM degree completion among baccalaureate degree recipients, at least without taking Physics courses.”



I quote from the conclusions on pages 268 and 269.

"Enrollment and attainment in physics and calculus is particularly important for all students with respect to obtaining a STEM degree down the road."




Will Tyson, Reginald Lee, Kathryn M. Borman and Mary Ann Hanson (2007).  Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Pathways: High School Science and Math Coursework and Postsecondary Degree Attainment, Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, Vol. 12, No. 3, pp. 243-270. (Tyson was at the University of South Florida.)