Employers and College Faculty Report Gaps in Recent Graduates’ Preparedness in New National Survey

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Rising to the Challenge Survey II PowerPoint Cover.

Washington, D.C. — July 22, 2015 — The second phase of a new national survey released by Achieve — Rising to the Challenge: Views on High School Graduates’ Preparedness for College and Careers — shows that 78% of college faculty and 62% of employers believe that public high schools are not doing enough to prepare students for the expectations they will face in college and the working world. This survey builds upon Achieve’s 2014 survey of recent high school graduates about their preparedness for life after high school, which was released in December.

“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 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.”

The survey, which updates a similar survey conducted by Achieve in 2004, found that more instructors and employers are dissatisfied with high school graduates’ preparedness than were a decade ago.

“These results show us that low expectations in high school have real consequences — not only for graduates themselves, but for our economy,” said Geoff Garin, president of Hart Research Associates, which conducted the survey. “College faculty are telling us that it’s more and more common for students to perform poorly or fail courses due to inadequate preparation. Employers increasingly need to require recent graduates to get additional education and training in order to make up for gaps. These are serious consequences that can only be addressed with better preparation and higher expectations in high school.”

Significant majorities of both college instructors and employers report that recent high school graduates arrive at college or the workplace with at least some gaps in their preparation:

  • 96% of instructors at two-year colleges reported at least some gaps in their students’ preparation (including 46% who reported large gaps in preparation).
  • 88% of instructors at four-year colleges reported at least some gaps in their students’ preparation (including 34% who reported large gaps in preparation).
  • 82% of employers reported at least some gaps in recent high school graduates’ preparation for typical jobs in their companies (including 48% who reported large gaps in preparation).

College instructors also report high levels of dissatisfaction with recent high school graduates’ preparation in key skill areas.

  • More than 75% of college instructors are dissatisfied with their students’ preparedness in critical thinking, comprehension of complicated materials, work and study habits, writing, written communication, and problem solving. Nearly all of these figures are at least 10 percentage points higher than the percentage that were dissatisfied with these areas in 2004.

Employers are reporting a significant increase in the need to require that recent high school graduates get additional education and training to make up for gaps.

  • 61% of employers request or require high school graduates to get additional education or training to make up for gaps in their ability to read, write, or do mathematics. This represents a 19 percentage point increase from the 42% that reported that their new employees needed additional training in 2004.

Despite the shortcomings in preparation, there is broad agreement between college instructors, employers, and recent high school graduates about which proposals have the potential to improve preparedness for life after high school.

  • 38% of college instructors, 50% of employers, and 56% of recent graduates believe that communication early in high school about the courses needed for college and careers would greatly improve their preparedness.
  • 33% of college instructors, 44% of employers, and 50% of recent graduates believe that opportunities to take challenging courses (i.e. honors, AP, and IB courses) would greatly improve their preparedness.
  • 33% of college instructors, 57% of employers, and 63% of recent graduates believe that opportunities for real-world learning would greatly improve their preparedness.

“We know that our schools can do a better job of preparing students for success in their next steps,” said Cohen. “We hear students saying that they are certain they would have worked harder in high school if they’d been held to higher expectations. 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.”

Findings are based on a national online survey conducted between April 23 and May 1, 2015 of college instructors and between May 11 and 15, 2015 of employers involved in hiring and personnel decisions, including:

  • 388 instructors who teach at a four-year college or university
  • 379 instructors who teach at a two-year college or technical institution
  • 201 employers who work at firms that employ 26 to 100 employees
  • 206 employers who work at firms that employ more than 100 employees

Please click here to view a slide deck that examines the full set of survey results.