College & Career Readiness

Overview

College & Career Readiness

Among school reformers, “college readiness” has become a rallying cry. But what does it mean, and how does career readiness factor in?

From a wide range of education advocacy groups, associations, think tanks, and state and federal policymakers, one now hears a remarkably consistent message about the purpose of public education: The most critical mission for K-12 schools is to prepare students for higher education. Among school reformers, “college readiness” has become a rallying cry.

Why the newfound sense of agreement, after generations of constant wrangling over the mission of the schools? Today’s young people cannot hope to find decent jobs and earn middle class wages, goes the current thinking, unless they have completed at least a couple of years of postsecondary education. And the country as a whole cannot hope to keep up with China, India, and other foreign competitors unless it greatly expands its college-educated workforce.

However, there’s a wide gap between the numbers of young people who aspire to get a college degree and the numbers that actually do so. For example, among students who enrolled for the first time at four-year colleges in 2001, only 56 percent had earned a degree six years later (and rates were considerably lower among minority and low-income students in particular). The evidence suggests that “somewhere between a third and a half of high school graduates leave high school prepared with a reasonable chance to succeed in college,” according to one study. This Topics section examines what “college readiness” means and what the pursuit of this goal means for reporters who cover education.

College Readiness: Why Now?

If it’s true that higher education has become absolutely critical to individual and societal well-being (and, of course, not everybody agrees with that premise), then the need for much greater K-12 achievement and, in turn, much greater college access, enrollment, and degree completion would seem to be so urgent that all other educational priorities pale in comparison. Thus, rather than continuing to ask the schools to pursue too many and often conflicting purposes, the college-readiness benchmark enables reformers to focus their efforts on a single, coherent goal, emphasizing rigorous college preparation for all students.

Skeptics question whether all of this fuss about college readiness is anything more than the latest in a very long list of educational fads that have come and gone. But for enthusiasts, the current round of reforms seems palpably different. This time, they argue, we truly are in the midst of a seismic—and maybe permanent—shift in Americans’ thinking about the purpose of public schools.

The idea that all students (and not just the talented few, or the children of the elite) can and should pursue a rigorous academic course of study has been gathering momentum over the past few decades (particularly since the publication of A Nation at Risk, in 1983). And in 2010, with the publication of the Common Core State Standards, the majority of state policymakers agreed, for the first time in history, to install a genuinely college-preparatory curriculum as the default option for every student.

What is “College Readiness”?

But what does “college readiness” mean, exactly? In one sense, students become “ready” to enroll in college as soon as they acquire a diploma from an accredited high school (or earn a Graduate Equivalency Degree). Of course, numerous critics have noted that the existing credential-based definition of readiness doesn’t ensure that students learn anything in the process. It would be far better, the argument goes, to define readiness as the ability to do college-level work, regardless of whether the students have reached a certain age or acquired a certain number of course credits.

However, short of dropping students into a first-year undergraduate class to see how they perform, colleges have no choice but to rely on some sort of proxy (or “indicator,” as researchers like to say) for readiness, whether it takes the form of a high school diploma, test scores, course transcripts, letters of reference, or a combination of such indicators. Which is to say the meaning of “college readiness” inevitably come around to the questions of how best to measure and certify students’ knowledge and skills.

A growing body of evidence suggests that students’ high school grade point averages (especially in core academic classes) provide perhaps the best information about how well students are likely to do in college courses. But even so, the ability to predict a student’s college success remains weak, with high school GPA taking away only a modest portion of the guesswork. Further, researchers caution that the more weight is placed on high school GPA, the more grade inflation is likely to occur, which would reduce the measure’s usefulness.

Of course, one could ask professors which skills they consider vital for first-year students to have. One major three-year study, involving more than 400 faculty and administrators at 20 universities, found that faculty in all departments tend to view two overarching academic skills—the ability to write well and the ability to select and use appropriate research methods—as critical to students’ success. Additionally, faculty said that some narrower kinds of knowledge and skill are important in their specific subject area classes. English professors, for example, focused on the ability to analyze and interpret literature, and math professors argued that students need a solid grounding in algebra.

Some analyses of student transcripts, test scores, and actual college performance suggest also that it is critical for high school students to complete an intellectually demanding core curriculum, to do well in high-level math and science courses (including Algebra II, at a minimum), and to become adept at reading and making sense of various kinds of sophisticated, complex texts.

Much of the research to date has aimed to identify and measure the specific academic skills (such as reading comprehension, writing, and the ability to solve quadratic equations) that contribute to the success of first-year college students. However, University of Oregon researcher David Conley—one of the leading figures in this field—has found that a variety of other factors (including intellectual habits of mind, such as inquisitiveness; self-management skills, such as budgeting sufficient time for assignments; and knowledge about higher education, such as understanding how to choose an appropriate college) have at least as much influence on college students’ success as do the purely academic factors on which most researchers have focused.

“College and Career Readiness”

And then there is the question of whether “college readiness” and “college and career readiness” are the same thing. The frequent pairing of those terms is fairly ambiguous, however. The call to pursue both kinds of readiness, simultaneously, could be taken to mean that these two distinct goals ought be viewed as equally important. A policymaker might stress college and career readiness in order to persuade the public to support both a rigorous college-prep education and robust workforce preparation programs (such as Career and Technical Education courses of study, Career Academies, or so-called 2+2 programs, which bridge high schools and two-year technical training courses).

Usually, though, the conflation of college and career readiness is meant to reinforce the idea that because of the rise of the global, information-based economy, the skills that young people need to succeed in rewarding careers are, in fact, the same skills that are needed to succeed in college—e.g., the ability to communicate effectively, to work in teams, and to reason logically.

Recently, however, some scholars and organizations have challenged the notion that the demands of college and the workforce are one and the same. For example, the Association for Career and Technical Education has argued that while some of the core academic skills may overlap, careers tend to require much more experience in and understanding of how to apply academic content, as well as various “employability skills” and specific “technical skills” that college-prep curricula rarely emphasize.

Report

The Kalamazoo Promise Scholarship

“Our study takes advantage of the unexpected announcement of the Kalamazoo Promise to study its effects on student achievement and behavior in high school. Specifically, we examine how the achievement and behavior of individual students eligible for a tuition subsidy changed after the program was launched. We find clear evidence that the Promise reduced student behavior problems. Our results on academic performance for all students are unfortunately not precise enough to draw strong conclusions.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

STEM and Student Skills: Join Our EWA Seminar in Los Angeles

Are you an education journalist? Do you want to know more about how schools are preparing students for future workforce, and what changes are coming to your local classrooms when it comes to computer science and math instruction? Are you familiar with the latest research on how students learn, and whether current instructional methods are aligned with those findings?  Would you like to be a more confident writer when it comes to reporting on student demographics?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

State of the Union: What Education Analysts Expect to Hear

Official White House photo by Pete Souza

The annual State of the Union address to Congress – and the nation – is President Obama’s opportunity to outline his administration’s goals for the coming months, but it’s also an opportunity to look back at the education priorities outlined in last year’s address – and what progress, if any, has been made on them.

Among the big buzzwords in the 2013 State of the Union: college affordability, universal access to early childhood education, and workforce development.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Analysis Offers Peek at College-Age Student Demographics of Future

A new interactive tool created by the Chronicle of Higher Education offers some insights into the rapidly changing face of college students in America.

The publication took a look at the demographic profile of four-year-olds versus 18-year-olds in an effort to project what college-aged students will be like 14 years from now.

The takeaway: there will be far fewer young people of college-going age, more of that smaller pool of students will be Hispanic or Asian, and fewer will be black or white.

Report

Report Confirms Early College High School Students Much More Likely to Earn a College Degree

Early College high school students are significantly more likely to enroll in college and earn a degree than their peers, according to the results of an updated study by the American Institutes for Research (AIR). Some 23 percent of students received an associate’s degree within two years compared with 2 percent for those attending other high schools.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Veterans Day: Leaving the Battlefield for the College Classroom

Veterans Day: Leaving the Battlefield for the College Classroom

At EWA’s Higher Education Seminar, held earlier this fall at Northeastern University, we examined the challenges of military personnel making the transition from soldiers to students. Given today’s holiday, it seemed like a good time to share a post from my EWA colleague Mikhail Zinshteyn.

Far more students seeking higher education degrees are part-time, older than the traditional 18-22 set and well into their careers. And colleges have been flagged for their lagging efforts to address the unique needs of these mature students.

Webinar

School’s (Still) In: Making the Most of Summer Learning
1 hour

While students are celebrating the start of the long summer break, there’s a significant tradeoff for the three months of leisure – on average, students will return to school in the fall a month behind where they performed in the spring. And the learning loss is even greater for low-income students who were already behind their more affluent peers. In this EWA Webinar, we examine how districts are successfully combating summer learning loss with high-quality programs and leveraging community partnerships to help pay for them.

Webinar

Education at a Glance 2013: EWA/OECD Webinar
55 minutes

How much of the U.S. gross domestic product is spent on education? How does that education spending break down for early childhood education, K-12 education and higher education? How much private spending is dedicated to education, compared to public spending? What is the link between higher education degrees and unemployment rates in the U.S. and other countries?

Multimedia

How I Did the Story: “An Empty Desk Epidemic” by David Jackson & Gary Marx

How I Did the Story: “An Empty Desk Epidemic” by David Jackson & Gary Marx

David Jackson and Gary Marx of the Chicago Tribune talk about the 10-year reporting project that became EWA’s Grand Prize-winning project, “An Empty-Desk Epidemic.” The expansive story demonstrated how students in Chicago’s public schools racked up missed days of school even as early as kindergarten.

Recorded at EWA’s 66th National Seminar, May 4, 2013 at Stanford University

Head to The Educated Reporter to read a guest blog by Jackson and Marks.

Multimedia

A Conversation with Thomas Friedman, Part 4: Information Overload, College Costs and Education as a Civil Right

A Conversation with Thomas Friedman, Part 4: Information Overload, College Costs and Education as a Civil Right

From the Education Writers Association 2013 National Seminar, a discussion between Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tom Friedman (New York Times) and Stephanie Banchero (Wall Street Journal). Filmed at Stanford University.

During the Q & A portion of his talk, Friedman fields questions on the pitfalls of online education, being overwhelmed by information, and how technology might offset rising tuition costs.

Multimedia

A Conversation with Thomas Friedman, Part 3: Modern Career Opportunities, Fear of Technology and Reasons to Be Optimistic

A Conversation with Thomas Friedman, Part 3: Modern Career Opportunities, Fear of Technology and Reasons to Be Optimistic

From the Education Writers Association 2013 National Seminar, a discussion between Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tom Friedman (New York Times) and Stephanie Banchero (Wall Street Journal). Filmed at Stanford University.

In part 3, Friedman discusses how young people are faring in the job market and how U.S. schools compare with their international counterparts.

Multimedia

A Conversation with Thomas Friedman, Part 2: Missing the Point on MOOCs, Cost vs. Value in Higher Ed and the ‘401(k) World’

A Conversation with Thomas Friedman, Part 2: Missing the Point on MOOCs, Cost vs. Value in Higher Ed and the ‘401(k) World’

From the Education Writers Association 2013 National Seminar, a discussion between Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tom Friedman (New York Times) and Stephanie Banchero (Wall Street Journal). Filmed at Stanford University.

In part 2, Friedman talks about the boom in Massive Open Online Courses, the role of teachers in increasingly tech-focused classrooms, and the importance of motivation in a world of defined contributions.

Webinar

Giving Guidance: Counselors’ Role in College and Career Readiness
1 hour

When it comes to making sure students are college and career ready, middle and high school guidance counselors play a critical — and often underreported — role.In this EWA webinar, attendees received an advance look at the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center’s second-annual survey of guidance counselors, in which respondents outlined some of the challenges of helping students meet ever-increasing expectations, as well as identified shortfalls in their own training and professional development.In this recording, you’ll  also hear from experts in the field as to the implications

Multimedia

10 Higher Education Stories You Should Be Covering This Year

10 Higher Education Stories You Should Be Covering This Year

Inside Higher Ed’s Scott Jaschik talks to reporters about 10 stories he wants to see in 2013 (added bonus: three “don’ts” to observe while covering the higher ed beat).

This address was a part of “Degrees vs. Debt: Making College More Affordable,” EWA’s Nov. 2-3 2012 seminar for higher ed reporters at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Multimedia

Buskin Lecture: Mayor Cory Booker

Buskin Lecture: Mayor Cory Booker

The Mayor of Newark, NJ speaks at EWA’s 65th National Seminar on education inequality, innovation, and the need for tough questions in school coverage.

Reporter Guide

What Studies Say About College Readiness

Among school reformers and policymakers, “college readiness” has become a ubiquitous rallying cry. But for all of the recent buzz about college readiness, it is difficult to say what that term means, how such readiness might be measured, or what schools might do to produce it. EWA’s new research brief delves into the current debates around, and research into, efforts to ensure that the majority of the country’s young people receive a K-12 education that truly prepares them to succeed in college.

Report

The Grandchildren of Brown: The Long Legacy of School Desegregation
University of California, Berkeley

Researcher Rucker Johnson finds a considerable impact of school desegregation that persists to influence the outcomes of the next generation, including increased math and reading test scores, reduced likelihood of grade repetition, increased likelihood of high school graduation and college attendance, improvements in college quality/selectivity, and increased racial diversity of student body at their selected college. The findings demonstrate that part of the intergenerational transmission of inequality can be attributable to school quality related influences.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Reading List: Chicago Sun-Times, Slate and EWA Higher Ed Seminar

I’ve been traveling quite a bit the past few days, and that’s let me catch up on some overdue reading (keeping track of the multitude of education stories and blogs could be a fulltime job).

One story I’ve been meaning to share comes from the Chicago Sun-Times, about top-performing schools having longer instructional days (click here for the link).

Organization

MDRC

Formerly known as the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, MDRC is “a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy organization dedicated to learning what works to improve programs and policies that affect the poor.” Their research regarding career academies has been a pivotal part of defining what “career readiness” can mean.

Organization

ACT

ACT is the standardized testing giant that has been one of the leading voices in discussions about how best to prepare high school students for college. Their research asserting that the skills students need to prepare for the workforce (“career ready”) are largely the same as those they will need to succeed in college (“college ready”) has been particularly influential.

Organization

Educational Policy Improvement Center

The University of Oregon’s Educational Policy Improvement Center was founded in 2002 by David Conley, one of the leading researchers on the subject of college and career readiness. EPIC initiates and compiles “research and tools to empower states, districts, schools, and teachers to prepare students for success beyond high school.”

Organization

Achieve

Achieve was founded in 1996 by a group of governors and business leaders. Since that time, it “has developed a range of advocacy resources that aim to address common concerns with college and career readiness.” Achieve partnered with the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers on the development the Common Core State Standards.

Organization

Jobs for the Future

Jobs for the Future is a Boston-headquartered nonprofit that “develops policy solutions and new pathways leading from college readiness to career advancement for struggling and low-income populations in America.” Their reform efforts tend to focus on the community college level of higher education.

Report

What Does It Really Mean to Be College and Work Ready?

“The nation is, at long last, engaged in a serious discussion of what it might take to make sure that our students leave high school college and career ready. But what exactly, does that mean? Almost three years ago, we decided to find out, by looking at the levels of mathematics and English language literacy high school graduates need to succeed in their first year in our community colleges.”

Key Coverage

College Bound

This blog regularly addresses issues of college readiness, in addition to examining the pathways that lead students to college degrees.

Key Coverage

Texas Considers Backtracking on Testing

In this state that spawned test-based accountability in public schools and spearheaded one of the nation’s toughest high school curriculums, lawmakers are now considering a reversal that would cut back both graduation requirements and standardized testing.

Key Coverage

For New York City Parents, a Waiting List for Nearly Everything

If waiting in line in the predawn of a January morning for science camp registration sounds crazy, you do not have a New York City child born after 2004. For those children and their parents, especially in the neighborhoods of brownstone Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan and the Upper West Side, not getting into activities, classes, sports teams — and even local schools — has become a way of life

Key Coverage

U.S High School Graduation Rates: Patterns and Explanations

I then describe six striking patterns in graduation rates. They include stagnation over the last three decades of the twentieth century, significant race-, income-, and gender-based gaps, and significant increases in graduation rates over the first decade of the twenty-first century, especially among blacks and Hispanics. … I find that increases in the nonmonetary costs of completing high school and the increasing availability of the GED credential help to explain stagnation in the face of substantial gaps between the wages of high school graduates and school dropouts.

Report

National Survey of Student Engagement

Each year, NSSE (pronounced “Nessie”) gathers information from students at four-year colleges and universities nationwide. The annual report produced from this research often yields insights regarding how well prepared students were for entering higher education.

Key Coverage

13th Grade: Older, Returning Students Strain Florida’s Community and State Colleges

There are a lot of people in Florida going through what Pepper Harth is going through. Remedial classes in math, reading and writing are seeing a surge of students at Florida’s 28 community and state colleges — schools where all students are welcome as long as they have a high school diploma or G.E.D. From 2004 to 2011, Florida’s remedial education costs for both students and schools ballooned from $118 million to $168 million. 

Key Coverage

Focus on a Broken Pipeline to College

This special issue sharply focuses on the challenges facing public high school students in Philadelphia, where fewer that 10 percent of graduates earn a college degree within 10 years. Through several articles and editorials, the current angles of the college and career readiness debate are ably dissected.

Report

EWA Research Brief: What Studies Say About College Readiness

This brief from the Education Writers Association looks at nearly three dozen studies about college readiness to answer four critical questions for journalists:

  • What does “college readiness” mean?
  • Is “college ready” the same as “college and career ready”?
  • What academic knowledge and skills are most critical to success in college? and
  • What other factors—besides being skilled and reading, writing, math and research—are most critical to success in college?
Report

Mind the Gaps: How College Readiness Narrows Achievement Gaps in College Success

This report “looks at the steps that can be taken to improve college and career readiness and success among underserved populations.” It concludes that  “by making sure that all students become ready for college and career—in particular, by ensuring that high school core course offerings are rigorous and that all students are given the opportunity to take additional, higher level coursework beyond core in mathematics and science—some of our country’s seemingly most intransigent social disparities can be reduced.”

Key Coverage

Defining ‘College Ready’ Nationally

Written just as the Common Core Standards Initiative was gaining momentum, this article delves into the efforts to help high schools and colleges better align their expectations regarding what graduates should know and be able to do prior to entering college.

Report

Reading Between the Lines: What the ACT Reveals about College Readiness in Reading

This study reaches a startling conclusion: “Based on 2005 ACT-tested high school graduates, it appears that only about half of our nation’s ACT-tested high school students are ready for college-level reading. What’s worse, more students are on track to being ready for college-level reading in eighth and tenth grade than are actually ready by the time they reach twelfth grade.”

Report

Ready for College and Ready for Work: Same or Different?

This report addresses one of the key issues of discussions regarding college readiness. It asserts that “high school students who plan to enter workforce training programs after they graduate need academic skills similar to those of college-bound students. Findings show that the math and reading skills needed to be ready for success in workforce training programs are comparable to those needed for success in the first year of college.”