Published Online: April 26, 2011
Published in Print: April 27, 2011, as Young Adults Give Low Marks to High Schools

Young Adults Grade High Schools Mediocre, Colleges High

A new poll finds they felt little support in their transition to college

Young adults say high schools are failing to give students a solid footing for the working world or strong guidance toward college, at a time when many fear graduation means tumbling into an economic black hole, a new poll shows.

Most of the 18- to 24-year-olds surveyed in the Associated Press-Viacom poll, released last week, gave high schools low grades for things that would ease the way to college: A majority said their high school wasn’t good at helping them choose a field of study, aiding them in finding the right college or vocational school, or assisting them in finding ways to pay for education.

If schools did these things better, that could make a significant difference, because young people already are enthusiastic about higher education, the findings suggest. Two-thirds of the respondents said students should aim for college, even if they aren’t sure which career they want to pursue. Almost as many said they wanted to earn at least a four-year degree.

The majority of high school students probably won’t end up with a college degree, however. Among today’s 25- to 34-year-olds, only about a third hold a bachelor’s degree or other higher degree, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Fewer than 10 percent have an associate’s degree.

‘Real World’ Preparation

The young people surveyed also gave high schools low marks when it came to exposing them to the latest technology in their future fields of study and helping them gain work experience.

Views on School

In general, how would you rate the job done by the high school you most recently attended?

Lovina Dill said she wished the two high schools she attended in California had taught her how to deal with the ups and downs of the real world. She could have used a class in “what happens if you can’t get a job, and the unemployment rate rises, and nobody can find a job,” she said, explaining that she was briefly homeless after she was laid off and was unable to find work using her certification in massage therapy.

The poll found that young people today are generally more pessimistic about their economic future than young adults in a similar poll in April 2007, eight months before the recession began. A majority in the recent poll said finances were a key factor in deciding whether to continue their education past high school, which college to attend, and what kind of career to pursue.

Ms. Dill, now 21, self-employed, and living with her father in Arcadia, La., thinks high schools should offer juniors and seniors workshops on how to get a job, how to build a career, and the many educational options besides a four-year degree.

The one category in the poll in which young people did rate high schools high was in preparing them for further education: 56 percent said their school did a good or excellent job in that category. Those who went on to college or trade school gave their high schools better marks than those who didn’t.

Appreciation of Teachers

Young people credited their own ambition and abilities most for their progress in life, followed by parents, family, and friends. But beyond that tight-knit circle, teachers were the heroes, with four in 10 respondents saying high school teachers helped them a lot.

High school and college counselors were a step behind. Most students gave them some credit, but fewer than one-fourth said their counselors were a lot of help, and about three in 10 thought they didn’t help at all.

Nonwhite students were more likely than whites to say their high school counselors helped them. They also gave their high schools better ratings for helping them find money for college.

Young adults overall see brighter days ahead for education, according to the results of the survey, conducted in partnership with Stanford University. About half think children entering elementary school today will get a better education than they did, more than double the number who predict that schools will get worse.

Vol. 30, Issue 29, Pages 12-13

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