Ready for College and Ready for Work: Same or Different?
Results of a new ACT study provide empirical evidence that, whether planning to enter college or workforce training programs after graduation, high school students need to be educated to a comparable level of readiness in reading and mathematics. Graduates need this level of readiness if they are to succeed in college-level courses without remediation and to enter workforce training programs ready to learn job-specific skills.
We reached this conclusion by:
- Identifying the level of reading and mathematics skills students need to be ready for entry-level jobs that require less than a bachelor’s degree, pay a wage sufficient to support a family, and offer the potential for career advancement
- Comparing student performance on ACT tests that measure workforce readiness with those that measure college readiness
- Determining if the levels of performance needed for college and workforce readiness are the same or different
The study results convey an important message to U.S. high school educators and high school students: We should be educating all high school students according to a common academic expectation, one that prepares them for both postsecondary education and the workforce. Only then—whether they are among the two-thirds who enter college directly after graduation or those who enter workforce training programs—will they be ready for life after high school.
Although the contexts within which these expectations are taught and assessed may differ, the level of expectation for all students must be the same. Anything less will not give high school graduates the foundation of academic skills they will need to learn additional skills as their jobs change or as they change jobs throughout their careers. The results of this study provide ample evidence that we must move the agenda for high school redesign in a direction that will prepare all students for success no matter which path they choose after graduation.
For decades it has been a commonly held belief that high school students planning to go to college need to take more rigorous coursework than those going directly into the workforce. Today, however, many employers are convinced that in an expanding global economy, entry-level workers need much the same knowledge and skills as college-going students. But such claims have been based mostly on anecdotal rather than empirical evidence. This research brief examines the relationship between college readiness and workforce readiness by asking the question: Are readiness for college and readiness for work the same, or different?
The primary mission of our public education system is to give every student the opportunity to live a meaningful and productive life, which includes earning a wage sufficient to support a small family. All students need to develop the knowledge and skills that will give them real options after high school. No student’s choices should be limited by a system that can sometimes appear to have different goals for different groups. Educating some students to a lesser standard than others narrows their options to jobs that, in today’s economy, no longer pay well enough to support a family of four. Widening access to the American dream through public education has always been one of the foundations of our society, and it is more critical than ever to our ability to remain competitive in today’s global economy.
Our new finding has important implications for U.S. high school education. It suggests that all high school students should be educated according to a common academic expectation that prepares them for both postsecondary education and the workforce. This means that all students should be ready and have the opportunity to take a rigorous core preparatory program in high school, one that is designed to promote readiness for both college and workforce training programs.
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