Rising to the Challenge

Wednesday, December 17, 2014Printer-friendly version

Recent High School Graduates Report Not Being Prepared for College and Career According to New National Survey

Rising to the Challenge Survey PowerPoint Cover

Washington, D.C. – December 17, 2014 - A new national survey released by Achieve – Rising to the Challenge: Are High School Graduates Prepared for College and Work? – shows that approximately 50% of recent high school graduates report gaps in preparation for life after high school.  

“Recent high school graduates are telling us that they left high school unprepared for the expectations they faced in college or in the work place,” said Sandy Boyd, chief operating officer of Achieve. “Policymakers should take note and create an environment where college and career ready standards—which all states now have—are translated into high expectations for all students. Until states set graduation policies that match their academic standards and support rigorous instruction, too many recent graduates will continue to feel underprepared for their next steps.”

The survey, which is a follow-up to an earlier survey conducted by Achieve in 2004, found that the perceived rigor of high school is largely unchanged in the past decade.

“The results show us that there continue to be shortcomings in the educational expectations for students, with real consequences when they confront the demands of college or work after high school,” said Geoff Garin, president of Hart Research Associates, which conducted the survey in partnership with Public Opinion Strategies. “Only one in four recent graduates reports that their high school set high academic expectations, which is the same scenario we found ten years ago. Many students are able to easily obtain a high school diploma, but too many find themselves unprepared once they arrive in college or in the working world.”

Most recent high school graduates say they experience a lack of preparedness in at least one subject.

  • 49% of college students and 43% of non-students report large gaps in one or more subject areas.
  • 83% of college students and 81% of non-students report at least some gaps in one or more subject areas.

A majority of the high school graduates surveyed indicate the expectations they faced in school don’t match the expectations once they leave despite attaining a diploma. 

  • 60% of college students and 58% of non-students say they would have worked harder in high school if they knew what they know now about the expectations of college and the working world.
  • 72% of college students and 65% of non-students indicate that they would have taken higher-level or more challenging courses in one or more subject area given what they know now about the expectations of college and the working world.
  • 87% of all recent high school graduates surveyed say that they would have worked harder if their high schools had demanded more, set higher academic standards, and raised expectations of the course work and studying necessary to earn a diploma.
  • Students who report that their high schools had high academic expectations were more likely to feel extremely or very well prepared for college and the working world.
  • Only one quarter of graduates surveyed feel their high school set high expectations.

Higher level math attainment helped students that went on to college avoid remedial classes.

  • Students who took math courses beyond Algebra II were more likely to feel extremely or very well prepared for college and the working world.
  • College students who have lower math attainment take remedial courses at much higher rates; 83% of college students who took less than Algebra II were required to take remedial coursework, compared with just 18% of students who had taken coursework beyond Algebra II in high school.

While many of the results mirror high school graduates' feelings in 2004, there were some differences.

  • More than one quarter of graduates surveyed wish that their high school had done a better job of preparing them for success in key areas: study habits, communications, and math. More students feel unprepared in these areas in 2014 than did in 2004.

Recent high school graduates also broadly agreed on which proposals would encourage high school students to work harder and be better prepared for life after high school, among those receiving the highest marks were: provide opportunities for real-world learning (90% total would improve somewhat and a great deal); communicate early in high school about the courses needed for college/careers (87%); give opportunities to take challenging course (86%); provide more help for those who need extra tutoring (83%) and have an assessment late in high school so students can find out what they need for college (77%).

“Providing consistent and regular signals to all high school students about future opportunities and the academics that are needed to be ready for college and career is key,” said Boyd. “In addition to graduation requirements that align to a state’s standards, states and districts should consider a number of policy actions. These include multiple pathways to graduation that combine real work exposure (such as meaningful career and technical education programs) with rigorous academics, early warning signals to students about their readiness for college and career, and providing additional academic support when needed. Finally, communicating early and often to students about what will be expected of students after high school and how they can chart a path to meet their goals is essential. As recent graduates said, when schools set rigorous expectations of students, they can and will rise to the challenge.”

Findings are based on a national online survey conducted between October 31 and November 17, 2014 of 1,347 recent public high school graduates from the classes of 2011 through 2014, including:

  • 741 students who are currently enrolled in two-year and four-year colleges (320 of whom have taken at least one remedial course)
  • 606 graduates who are not currently enrolled in two-year or four-year colleges, including 215 who attended college but quit before finishing
  • 277 African American and 375 Hispanic recent public high school graduates

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


MEDIA CONTACT: Chad Colby (202) 419-1570, ccolby@achieve.org

About Achieve

Achieve is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit education reform organization dedicated to working with states to raise academic standards and graduation requirements, improve assessments, and strengthen accountability. For more information about the work of Achieve, visit www.achieve.org.