High school graduation is a big deal. As summer approaches, kids look at the calendar longingly and parents imagine that coveted cap and gown. But a new study by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, The Alliance for Excellent Education, shows that a good chunk of students are unprepared for life after high school.

The study, Paying Double: Inadequate High School and Community College Remediation, found that close to one-third of all community college freshmen enroll in at least one remedial course upon arrival and 20 percent of freshman in four-year institutions do. They come to college without the basic skills required to succeed there. And high school students who go straight into the work force are just as unprepared.

The study aims to put a dollar amount on what it costs the nation when graduates arrive at university or at their first job without the skills they should have mastered in high school. And the estimate is a whopping $3.7 billion lost annually. Colleges end up spending physical and monetary resources on remedial teaching, and companies are forced to buy technology to compensate for their employee's lack of basic skills.

So what exactly are they missing? More than 80 percent of employers said recent graduates were deficient in “applied skills” like communication, work ethic, and critical thinking. And 72 percent said they were deficient in basic writing skills.

College grads didn't fare much better. Not even a quarter were deemed “excellent” in terms of overall preparation – most were dubbed “adequate” or less. And at $22,218 per year for an average private college, those are sad scores indeed.

What's the good news? Employers agree on what they're looking for. In terms of basics, they want high school students to graduate with skills in reading comprehension, English language speaking skills, and decent writing. Top applied skills are a good work ethic, the ability to collaborate, and proficient oral communication. Employers know their needs, now if only they could find students prepared to fill them.