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(NOT) RISING TO THE CHALLENGE: Recent High School Graduates Not Prepared for Rigors of College or Work, According to New Achieve Survey Findings

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“Employers and college instructors are affirming what recent graduates themselves have told us; the expectations of high schools do not line up with the expectations of postsecondary education and the working world,” said Michael Cohen, president of Achieve.

More than three-quarters of college faculty and over 60 percent of employers reported that public high schools are not preparing students for the expectations they will face in college and the workforce, according to survey results in Rising to the Challenge: Views on High School Graduates’ Preparedness for College and Careers, a new report by Achieve. These percentages are dramatically higher than similar survey findings that Achieve conducted in 2004.

High School Graduate Preparedness GraphsAs shown in the graph to the right, nearly half of employers in 2004 felt public high schools were adequately preparing students for the expectations of the work world. In 2015, that percentage fell to 29 percent while the percentage saying that public high schools were not doing a good enough job increased by 24 percentage points. Among college instructors, 78 percent said public high schools are not doing a good enough job in 2015, compared to 65 percent in 2004.

The survey comes on the heels of Achieve’s December 2014 survey in which 49 percent of college students reported “large gaps” in their preparedness in one or more subject areas.

“Employers and college instructors are affirming what recent graduates themselves have told us; the expectations of high schools do not line up with the expectations of postsecondary education and the working world,” said Michael Cohen, president of Achieve. “Nearly half of recent high school grads reported that they weren’t fully prepared for their next steps, and even higher percentages of faculty and employers agree with them. We are hearing time and again that too many students with high school diplomas, who are told that they have met the requirements to move onto their next steps, are simply not adequately prepared to succeed in college or in a job.”

According to the survey results, 96 percent of instructors at two-year colleges and 88 percent of instructors at four-year colleges reported at least some gaps in their students’ preparation. Additionally, 82 percent of employers reported at least some gaps in recent high school students’ preparation for work, including 48 percent who reported large gaps.

When asked about their students’ specific skills, college instructors said that their high schools are preparing most students in computers and technology, teamwork, and verbal communication, but more than 75 percent said they are dissatisfied with their students’ preparedness in critical thinking, comprehension of complicated materials, work and study habits, writing, written communication, and problem solving.

“We hear students saying that they are certain they would have worked harder in high school if they’d been held to higher expectations,” said Cohen. “It’s critical that schools clearly communicate the expectations of colleges and employers early in a student’s high school experience and help them to understand the coursework they will need to complete. When we set rigorous expectations, students can and will rise to the challenge.”

Rising to the Challenge: Views on High School Graduates’ Preparedness for College and Careers is available at http://www.achieve.org/files/AchieveSurveyIIPowerPoint.pdf.

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