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RISING TO THE CHALLENGE: High School Graduates, College Instructors, and Employers Lament Lack of Graduates’ Preparation for College and Work

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"We're hearing a clear message from our graduates that we do them no favors if we set the bar for performance too low," said Ohio Governor Bob Taft

Nearly two in five college students say that there are gaps between the education they received in high school and the “overall skills, abilities, and work habits that are expected of them today in college and in the work force,” according to a recent survey conducted for Achieve, Inc. Rising to the Challenge: Are High School Graduates Prepared for College and Work? is based on a survey of college students, high school graduates who went directly into the workforce, college professors, and employers. Even among students who thought they were “extremely or well prepared” for college-level work, the study found that 31 percent still had to take at least one remedial class in college. Among noncollege students, 49 percent said that high school left them unprepared for the workforce, and 84 percent said they will need more formal education or training to “achieve what they hope for in life.”

“We’re hearing a clear message from our graduates that we do them no favors if we set the bar for performance too low,” said Ohio Governor Bob Taft (R), a cochair of Achieve, Inc. “Young people are telling us loudly and clearly that they want to be challenged. This message should come as a wake up call to governors and other state officials to do all that is in their power to ensure that their states’ graduates are better prepared for success.”

College instructors and employers agree that their students and employees are poorly prepared by their high schools. Only 18 percent of college instructors felt that most of their students were extremely or well prepared for college. Even at selective colleges, only 30 percent of instructors said that most of their students were well prepared. Instructors cited math and writing as the biggest needs for remediation in their students, estimating that fully half of the students at their schools were not adequately prepared to do college-level work in these subjects. Seven in ten instructors reported spending at least some amount of class time on material that should have been taught in high school. Overall, college instructors estimated that 42 percent of public high school graduates are not prepared for college-level classes.

Employers estimated that 46 percent of high school graduates who apply for jobs at their companies are “inadequately prepared for the work habits they will need on the job.” They say that 40 percent of applicants do not have adequate math skills, and 38 percent lack the writing skills that are needed to do the job. They also estimate that 45 percent of high school graduates do not have the skills needed to advance beyond entry-level jobs.

What Employers Are Saying …

As the chart below demonstrates, employers think high school graduates are only slightly better prepared than high school dropouts for advancement in their companies. Only 19 percent of employers said that high school graduates with no further education represent a large proportion of the employees they hire.

Click on the chart for a larger image.

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Click on the chart for a larger image.

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The study implies that we need to have higher expectations and more rigorous coursework at the high school level in order to adequately prepare students for college and the workforce. As the survey discovered, higher standards, tougher courses, and more evaluations were supported by college instructors and employers alike; and the high school graduates agreed. Sixty-five percent of college students and 77 percent of workers say that if they had known in high school what they knew later about college and the workforce, they would have worked harder and applied themselves more in high school, even if it meant less time for other activities.

The complete study is available at http://www.achieve.org/dstore.nsf/Lookup/pollreport/$file/pollreport.pdf.

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