Survey: many not prepared for college

Nearly four in 10 high school graduates say they were not prepared adequately for the demands of college or work, according to a new survey.

College instructors say that 42 percent of their students have large skills gaps, while 39 percent of employers say high school graduates who went straight to work are not prepared for their current jobs.

Only 26 percent of the students who went on to college and one-fifth of those who went to work say that they felt challenged and faced with high academic expectations in high school. Sixty-five percent of the college students and 77 percent of those who did not go to college said they would have worked harder if the expectations had been greater.

The poll of 1,487 recent students, 300 college professors and 400 employers was conducted for Achieve Inc., a bipartisan, nonprofit organization of government and business leaders focused on increasing academic standards. The group is cosponsoring a summit on high school reform at the end of the month in Washington with the National Governors Association. The survey was conducted by Peter Hart Research Associates, Inc., and Public Opinion Strategies.

“There are alarming gaps between what young people know and need to know to succeed,” said Michael Cohen, president of Achieve. “A sizable minority say they’re not adequately prepared for the work they must do, whether in college or the workplace, and employers and college professors largely agree.”

Only 14 percent of college students said they felt adequately prepared in all skills areas addressed: oral communications, science, math, ability to do research, and quality of writing.

Even among those students who felt adequately prepared, 31 percent took at least one remedial course in college. Among those who did not feel prepared, 46 percent took at least one remedial course.

“This should be a real wake-up call for governors across the country,” Ohio Gov. Bob Taft said in a briefing last week. “We all have to do more to assure our states’ graduates are better prepared for success. We are raising the bar for graduation, but we’re not going far enough.”

Nearly half of the non-college students said that they had received no preparation for the work habits expected of them in the job market and 45 percent said they didn’t have adequate computer skills.

The jobs of the future in such fields as biotechnology and genetic engineering “require interdisciplinary knowledge, advanced math and science skills, and the ability to write, analyze, interpret and communicate effectively,” said Art Ryan, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial and Achieve cochair. The high schools designed at the height of the manufacturing economy “have not kept pace. This is as important an agenda for state leaders as there is.”