Original Research

How does the grade obtained at school for English and Mathematics affect the probability of graduation at a university?

Michael Murray
Pythagoras | Vol 38, No 1 | a335 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/pythagoras.v38i1.335 | © 2017 Michael Murray | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 22 April 2016 | Published: 25 August 2017

About the author(s)

Michael Murray, School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa


Over half of all students enrolling at a particular university in KwaZulu-Natal fail to complete a degree. This article is wanting to determine to what extent the marks they obtain for English and Mathematics at school impact on their probability of graduation at this university. In addressing this problem, other student specific factors associated with their gender, race and the type of school they have attended need also to be properly accounted for. To provide answers for this study, the performance of 24 392 students enrolling at the university over the period 2004 to 2012 was followed until they graduated or dropped out from their studies. A structural equation model was fitted because it allows one to separate a direct effect from that of an indirect effect. Gender, race and school background were found to be very significant with males, Black Africans and students coming from a less privileged school background having a smaller probability associated with eventually graduating from this university. Males tend to perform better than females in Mathematics, with females performing better males in English. More importantly, however, a single percentage point increase in one’s mark for English increases the probability associated with graduating from this university far more than would be the case if their Mathematics mark were to increase by a single percentage point. In the light of these mediated results, perhaps this university should be directing their efforts more towards improving the English (rather than mathematical) literacy of students entering the university.


graduation; structural equation model


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