College & Workforce Readiness

‘Disconnect’ Between K-12, College Targeted

By Sean Cavanagh — November 05, 2003 4 min read
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Workforce and education advocates are making a push to bridge the long-standing divide between K-12 academics and college expectations, arguing that the disconnect poses economic perils for the country.

The survey, “Leaks in the Postsecondary Pipeline: A Survey of Americans,” is available from Jobs for the Future. (Requires free registration.) The report, “Ready for Tomorrow: Helping All Students Achieve Secondary and Postsecondary Success,” is posted online by the National Governors Association. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

The pipeline between the two academic systems has been punctured at several points, according to officials who gathered here for a conference late last month. It begins with the wave of students who drop out of high school, continues with the influx of college freshmen needing remedial help once they reach campus, and results in many undergraduates’ failure to secure degrees, seen as an increasing necessity in today’s economy.

Those trends, and the factors behind them, were examined at “Double the Numbers,” an Oct. 23-24 conference sponsored by Jobs for the Future, a Boston organization that pushes for stronger links between education and employers.

The event coincided with the release of two reports examining students’ transitions between high school and college. The first, “Leaks in the Postsecondary Pipeline: A Survey of Americans,” was issued by Jobs for the Future and included a survey of Americans’ beliefs about the causes of lackluster high school and college completion rates.

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View the accompanying chart, “From Classroom to Campus.”

The survey found widespread concern among respondents about the difficulty students have in moving from high school to college. Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed said that the transition does not work well for most students, and said they favored better coordination between K-12 systems and colleges. Only 36 percent said that the shift was an easy one.

Lake Snell Perry & Associates, a Washington political-research firm, conducted the telephone survey of 1,010 Americans age 18 or older in September and October. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

“We wanted to gauge how the public characterizes the nature of the transition,” said Richard Kazis, the senior vice president of Jobs for the Future. “It is interesting how clear they are about what some of the problems are.”

Help Wanted

In some cases, though, public opinion was divided on the best strategies for helping high school students get into and succeed in college. Seventy-one percent of those surveyed thought more effective guidance counseling would help students make that transition more easily; 55 percent believed more challenging courses in high school would help.

When it came to helping minorities succeed in college, opinions varied by race and ethnicity. Fifty-six percent of white respondents said they believed tutoring and additional support in high school would help minority students the most; only 20 percent thought more financial aid for college was the answer.

In contrast, the greatest percentage of Hispanics polled, 44 percent, thought financial aid was the best option for helping minorities succeed in college, and only 36 percent of them regarded high school tutoring as the best form of help. The greatest percentage of African-Americans, 40 percent, chose tutoring as the top form of help, while 29 percent selected financial aid.

The second report, “Helping All Students Achieve Secondary and Postsecondary Success,” written by Jobs for the Future and the National Governors Association, offers several suggestions to state officials for building a stronger pipeline between high school and higher education.

Those recommendations include having state governments set specific numeric targets for high school and college completion; promoting efforts to give high school students early access to college-level work; creating incentives for the founding of smaller high schools, such as those with fewer than 400 students; and putting greater state resources into low-performing high schools. The report offers studies of individual state initiatives in those areas.

According to the study, improving the K-12-to-college connection offers potentially rich benefits. The report cites Educational Testing Service data estimating that improving college access for nonwhites could bring as much as $230 billion in new national wealth each year, and $80 billion in new tax revenue annually.

The two organizations’ report is “supposed to offer help to both governors and policymakers, with practical examples of the efforts states are already making,” said Kristin D. Conklin, a senior policy analyst with the National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practices, in Washington. “They can see a clear road for what they must do.”

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