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High Schools Fall Short Preparing Students For College, Survey Finds

College faculty and employers recently surveyed believe the expectations of high schools do not match what students need to succeed in postsecondary education or on the job—and the problem has gotten worse in the last decade.

The findings come from an online survey this spring of instructors at two- and four-year colleges, as well as employers and recent public high school graduates that was conducted by Hart Research Associates for Achieve, the Washington-based nonprofit education reform organization.

Among faculty members who teach at four-year colleges, 88 percent reported at least some gaps in their students' preparation, including 34 percent who reported large gaps in preparation. At two-year colleges, instructors felt 96 percent of students had some gaps (including 34 percent with large gaps), according to the Achieve poll results released July 22.

Employers, too, believe students leave high school without the skills needed for typical jobs at their companies (82 percent believe there are some gaps and 48 percent report large gaps in readiness), the Achieve survey showed.

More than three-quarters all college instructors polled said they were dissatisfied with their students' abilities in critical thinking, comprehension of complicated materials, work and study habits, writing, written communication, and problem-solving. This reflects a level of dissatisfaction that is 10 percentage points higher than when instructors were polled by Achieve in 2004.

To make up for the deficit, 61 percent of employers report they request or require new hires to get more training in math, reading or writing—nearly a 20 percentage point increase from what employers surveyed said 10 years ago.

Only about one-quarter of recent public high school graduates believe their high school set high academic expectations for them and half who are in college report experiencing some gaps in college preparation.

What can be done?The 800 college educators, 400 business people, and 1,300 recent high school graduates surveyed suggest students be counseled early in high school about what courses to take to best prepare themselves for college and the workplace. They believe challenging honors, Advanced Placement, and International Baccalaureate courses would set students up for success, as well as real-world learning opportunities.

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