Students as Stakeholders: Talking About College & Career Readiness

By Hannah Bartlebaugh 

As the high school graduation rate continues to increase year-over-year, whether or not students are actually prepared for life after high school is a question of some debate. In Washington, D.C., education experts are concerned that low scores on exams meant to gauge college preparedness and low college graduation rates indicate that students who graduate high school are “not ready for postsecondary opportunities.” Similarly, an investigation by the Hechinger Report found that the vast majority of public two- and four-year colleges report enrolling students who are not ready for college-level work. These stories highlight the truth that many educators know anecdotally: students aren’t always prepared for life after high school, even if they graduate.

So how can we better understand where to target support? We can start by asking those who are in schools and classrooms every day and have a unique perspective on what’s working and what’s not — the students themselves.

Recent findings on students’ perceptions of college and career readiness highlight the student perspective by looking at feedback from over 55,000 high school students across the country. The data revealed some interesting insights.

  • Most students want to go to college.
  • The majority of students surveyed — 84 percent — report that they want to go to college. This is affirming of the college-going culture of schools across the country. Most students want to go on to some form of post-secondary education.
  • Only 1 in 2 students feel academically prepared for college.
  • In the words of one student, “The things we learn help us pass tests so we can get a good grade, but we don’t learn basic skills for studying that will help us survive in college.”
  • Although most students want to go to college, only about half of all students feel that their school has helped them develop the skills and knowledge they will need for college-level classes. This is troubling, as recent studies show that students who have to take remedial classes are more likely to drop out.
  • Students find support services helpful – but most aren’t using them.
  • When asked about a variety of college and career support services, only about a third of students surveyed reported using support services.
  • However, of those who used them, the majority found them to be helpful. For example, 63 percent of students who accessed counseling about how to pay for college found it to be helpful. However, only 19 percent of students used that service. This is especially concerning as cost is one of the top reasons cited for students dropping out of college. Understanding how to pay for college is vital for ensuring that students make it to and through college.

This feedback highlights that students know that a high school diploma does not necessarily equal preparation. These findings should serve as a catalyst for local conversations about where college and career preparedness efforts are falling short and how students can be better supported.

So, how can we engage in conversations with students about college and career readiness?

  1. Keep listening to students. Take these findings back to your school and ask students if the data here resonates with them. What questions do they have about life after high school? What college and career resources do they know about in their school and community?
  2. Act on student feedback. After you’ve asked students for their feedback, use it to inform changes. Feedback that sits on a shelf isn’t helpful to anyone. Create a clear feedback loop with students to let them know how you’re incorporating what they told you to create better systems for college and career readiness.
  3. Connect students with resources. There are a bevy of national organizations doing incredible work in the college access space, and many of them provide free online tools that students can use. Share resources such as Big Future, ScholarMatch, and the College Board Net Price Calculator with students as they prepare to apply to colleges.

Students are the experts on their own experiences, but far too often their voices are left out of the conversation about how to improve education. This data serves as an important illustration of the powerful insights that decision-makers in schools and communities can glean when they ask students for their feedback.

For more, see:

Hannah Bartlebaugh is the Marketing and External Relations Coordinator at YouthTruth. Follow them on Twitter at @Youth_Truth.

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