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High School Shortchanged Us, Students Report

The College Board has released a survey that asks recent high school graduates to reflect on their high school experiences and on their transitions to college and work. (See my colleague Caralee Adams' take on the study over at our College Bound blog.) The study is interesting, because in all the hubbub about what students "should" do to prepare for college or work, few people stop to ask students themselves to inform the discussion.

This survey was done with 1,500 students, one year after they graduated from high school in the class of 2010. Four in 10 of those students had gone on to a four-year college; one-quarter had enrolled in a two-year college; 6 percent were in trade school or a job-training program, and one-quarter weren't in school at all. It delivers an intriguing variety of messages, some of which are a bit confounding.

Forty-four percent of students, for instance, said they wish they had taken different courses. The biggest regret is not taking more math, science, and writing-intensive coursework in high school. But only about half the respondents wished they'd worked harder in high school, and only one-third said they think high school graduation requirements should be tougher. (The ones who say they wish they'd worked harder, by the way, are not just those who struggled. They include large proportions of kids who got good grades and went on to college.)

Those crosscurrents notwithstanding, graduates who enrolled in college clearly had a reason to say they wish they'd taken tougher courses in high school; half reported that their college courses were more difficult than they'd expected, and one-quarter got stuck in remedial classes. But here comes the confounding piece: two-thirds of the students still report that their high schools did a good job of preparing them for college-level work.

High schools got mixed reports about how well they did preparing students for work, too. Four in 10 students said their schools fell short in that regard. Students' voices showed more discontent with the way their schools prepared them for work than with the way they prepared them for college, suggesting that high schools are more accomplished on the college-ready side of the coin than they are on the work-ready side.

Students also complained that they got too little help mastering everyday life skills, like managing their finances, and in making a smooth transition to college life.

When you roll all of that up together, it's interesting to learn that 82 percent of the students still look back on their overall high school experience and report that they are satisfied with it. (This at the very same time that 80 percent of the students said they would change something about their high school years.)

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